“We’ll hire you but I suppose you want in the northwest schools, so I’m not sure just where you will be placed,” so said the personnel director.
“No,” I replied, “I have a sociology degree and I am interested in teaching in the distressed zones.” (I really don’t know what we called those areas in the sixties – disadvantaged, low socioeconomic, poverty?)
His attitude perked up and he was on the phone pronto with two principles, send me out immediately for an interview. The first one signed me on to teach a combination third/fourth grade class. I can’t tell you much about the racial makeup except that there were no blacks. The blacks were in the neighboring school district – other side of the bridge they had to cross to get to school. One boy was killed on that bridge. I don’t remember the particulars; I guess a car hit him. Good kid. I don’t think he was likely to have been “horsing around.”
Those two community schools were combined in 1966, I think, my second year of teaching. Students were a little older. I think fourth and fifth graders. There was conflict – not in a physical way, but in the way conflict is caused by an enforced law. My opinion is that the blacks did not want to give up their neighborhood school and be forced to be outside their comfort zone – tossed into an unknown sea.
I was overly conciliatory, trying to prove myself to them. I ended up in tears. I’m forever thankful for a black principal who asked me a question which was very insightful – “Why are you putting up with what is going on?” He then reamed me out a bit and sent me back to my classroom. 😀
That initial encounter was summer session When regular school started in September, I had a class of students many of whom I will never forget. This brings to mind a girl who left a note on my desk. I found it after school. It said, “We know you love us.” What an insightful child! At the age when all kids write “I love you” or “Do you love me.” I wonder how she knew I needed that. I’m sure I did not verbalize that.
Over the 17 years I had heartbreak.
A boy who killed his father with a vacuum hose. I don’t think he served any time. Mostly because he did it because his father was beating his mother.
A boy who stabbed a girls hand with a pencil – he committed suicide when he was about fifteen, tied a cinder block on his leg and jumped out of a boat.
A boy who arrived at school with dog feces on his back thrown by other children. I visited him in jail a few years later. He had killed someone over a drug deal of some kind. He remembered me.
A boy whose burned body was found in a motel bathtub. He had fake ID on him. Someone apparently thought they would fool the police.
A boy who said out of the blue, “Teacher, what would you do if you were robbing a house and the police came?” Upon my answer he said, “That’s not what my dad said. He said to run because the police wouldn’t shoot a boy in the back.”
A girl whom I encountered as I served as Asst Chaplain in the county jail. She was badly beaten. I recognized her name; she remembered me. I told her I was surprised to see her in jail. She told me she started drugs when she was twelve which led to the guy who she lived with; the one who beat her up. She was moved up to trustee then released. I saw her about three weeks later. Again beaten up by the same guy who did it the first time.
A fourth grader who was pregnant. link
And the little one who left me the note? Yes, I found out about her online. She has a string of drug arrests. I’m so sorry, Baby Girl. I wish I could have protected you.
Whites – Browns – Blacks
As I sit here with tears running, do you possibly believe I care to which race these children belonged? Do you care about their race? I could tell you if it is important. I’m sure you agree, it is of the least importance! But there were some of each.
HEARTBREAK. But nothing to do with race.