I’ve been a high school science teacher for a little under 10 years. I’ve primarily worked at poor urban schools with high Hispanic immigrant populations and I’ve loved most of my career. Yeah, some low points and difficult times but that’s everyone right?
The year I taught at a black inner city school almost made me leave the profession entirely. I was entering my 5th year teaching and I decided to take on a new challenge. Local inner city schools had been advertising turn around initiatives, and I decided to give it a go as the school I was at had successfully completed a turnaround initiative started when I had first arrived. The two schools were very similar with one major difference. The proportion of students who were listed as “economically disadvantaged” (poverty) was the same at both schools but I was leaving primarily Hispanic to go to primarily Black.
The entire year was a complete disaster from beginning to end. I could probably write an entire book about the shit I saw there, but I’m just going to give you the highlights, starting from least to most serious.
Class was basically optional. Kids would walk in or out constantly, if they showed up at all. Any attempts to enforce any kind of rules about tardiness and truancy was usually met with “fuck you nigga”. And even if they did show up, they were rowdy and off task constantly. Very little education took place in that room. Or any of them rooms really. For example, one girl pulled out her phone, turned on some music, jumped on her desk and started dancing on top of the desk. I tried to get her down but she kept telling me “fuck you” over and over. This was at least weekly for her. This same little bitch also have a speech to the school board about the institutional forces that keep black people down. Before you accuse me of having shitty classroom management, I tried talking to my AP and my principal about what to do because I had never experienced anything like this. And they told me something I was going to hear repeatedly throughout the year. “It’s just their culture. You have to respect that.” It’s important to note that I was LITERALLY the only white male in the building. Almost every other adult was black with a few Hispanic men and another white woman. The black female principal with a PhD in education told me it’s just their culture and I have to respect that. Wow. I wish it ended there but it doesn’t.
The crab bucket mentality is real. I had a handful of good kids, and coincidentally I’m sure, they were almost all African immigrants. One boy from Rwanda was accepted to STANFORD! Holy shit I was so proud of him and so happy for him. Know who wasn’t? The college counselor trying to pressure him to change his mind and go to fucking Grambling instead. Said he was turning his back on his community by going to Stanford.
Trying to manage them was bad enough, but each class had about 40 kids in it. You might think this is a problem with funding but we got more money per kid than every other high school in the area (and this is a MAJOR city). It didn’t go to hiring teachers, it went to just maintaining all the shit the kids just destroyed for fun. We issued each student a laptop, and it was a pretty small school, about 850 kids. Throughout the year we had to issue about 1000 replacements. The kids kept pawning them, or just destroying them for fun. Several times I caught groups of them just throwing the laptops against the wall or down the stairs, cackling and howling while taking turns filming it for Vine (this was before TikTok took off). Every single TI83 calculator in the building was stolen from every math and science teacher. But can’t you just make them put it back before they leave? You think we didn’t try? They’d howl and scream about any number of things and just storm out with it anyway. And again, couldn’t do anything about it because the school cop told me, along with the principal, it’s just their culture.
I don’t want to hear shit about “well they can’t worry about school when they’re poor and may not make rent and are hungry” either. Every two weeks we handed out bags of groceries to every kid in addition to the school cafeteria serving free breakfast and lunch to the kids and free dinner later in the evening to students and their families. I don’t know why, it was a fucking waste. They’d fish out the snacks and dump everything else. Hundreds of pounds of food wasted a month. We often tried to salvage what we could when they’d just throw the bags on the floor. And I know for a fact that almost all of the housing in the area was heavily subsidized section 8.
And we haven’t even touched the real big issue yet, which is violence. Fights were a daily thing. There was pretty much at all times a fight going on somewhere in the halls or in the classroom. Usually the punishment for a fight was about an hour in ISS. A kid needed on average 5 fights before anything more substantial happened, like a one day suspension. Notice how I said “in the classroom” too? At least once a week a teacher got hit. I had quite a few take swings at me. Again, usually just sit in ISS for an hour, right back the next day. The first time a kid took a swing at me, principal demanded to know what I did to provoke him… apparently telling him to remain in his seat was enough to set him off, and it was my fault. Again, why? It’s their culture.
And now the big one, where I decided I was done. A group of 6 of the biggest assholes followed me out to the parking lot and they showed me their knives. Said if they didn’t get credit for my class toward graduation, they’d kill me. I was terrified. I ran to the school resource officer and the principal. The principal told me I had to give them extra credit. You guessed it, it’s just their culture, these things happen. And we wouldn’t want to wreck their lives with a police report over something like this would we? For the first time ever in my life, I told a supervisor to fuck off. I would do no such thing, and I would finish my contract to the letter, but I would do absolutely nothing extra of any kind, I was done with that shithole. I never walked the same path twice and kept my back to a wall at all times until in the parking lot where I was constantly looking over my shoulder, prepared to run at any time.
That was 3 years ago. I went to another school in the district, just as poor but Hispanic instead of black. The principal is also Hispanic and an alum of the school. And because of this school, I’m glad I didn’t quit education. I love it here, it’s just like the school I started off at. There’s issues with poverty but they’re good people trying to make the best of what they have and I go into work each day (not so much anymore with remote learning due to COVID, but you get what I mean) with a smile on my face. Yeah I have shitty kids, but we all do every year. I was deeply saddened by COVID because I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye, I actually cried over that. Except 2017, when it was almost every kid, every period.
That sentence is burned into my brain. It’s just their culture. If so, you’ll have to forgive me when I’m not exactly sympathetic to your cause. Because you did it to yourself.