Monday, July 10, 2006

Teaching in Spanish Harlem

I have taught an Adult Essay Writing/English Workshop in a GED program Spanish Harlem for the last year. I originally didn't think I'd get the job, concerned that I was a square peg trying to fit into a community that I didn't belong. I'd applied for the job once before, but was passed over for an unknown reason. When I saw the posting a second time on Craigslist, the seemingly one-stop place for anything, everything, and anyone on the Internet, I didn't blink before reapplying.

I arranged an interview more out of curiosity, than an actual desire to get the job. I wanted to know who it was that dissed me the first time. I was asked to teach for an hour, an audition, and ended up going beyond the allotted time.

Walking into that storefront classroom was one of few times I was nervous. I did not feel as I though I was in the hood, but close, and the faces that looked out at me weren't welcoming. It wasn't their fault, the previous teacher was a drill sergeant, and had only lasted a few weeks before resigning (or being terminated).

I pulled from my public speaking, acting, reading Bible verses in church toolbox to calm any fears that I could handle myself in what I later realized can be a hostile environment. I often think of Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds when I look at some of the students. I've no martial arts skills, high cheekbones, or pouty lips to beguile my adult students. I have to rely on my conviction to make an impact in my students' lives.

We all make bad choices, and sometimes choices are made for us. However, I don't believe that we should spend a lifetime in the shadows or making excuses for what has happened. Whose past isn't imperfect?

Each week I learn as much about myself as I impart to the students who pay attention and take notes. My capacity as a big brother and mentor extends to the classroom. I know that I'm contributing to a higher cause (no climbing on a soapbox). Depending upon the week or hour, I see fear, revelation, and sheer confusion on the students' faces.

I didn't foresee my teaching this course, and for this long. Kudos to teachers who are in the classroom five days a week, with assignments and exams to grade, dealing with various student personalities, and their parents. My aunt retired this summer after thirty-nine years as a third grade teacher.

Teaching an essay course keeps my writing and editing skills sharp. Teaching this course, I'm privileged to read about the triumphs and disappointments my students share with me, well, those who attempt or complete the homework.

I don't know if I enjoy more the literary fiction discussions, to hear my students blurt out essay types, forms of punctuation, or the increased confidence in previously shy students.

I know I've changed because of my students, and this evolution wouldn't have otherwise taken place in an office or corporate job. I owe them as much gratitude as they express to me with their weekly attendance, in what has become a standing-room only workshop.

Building blocks for future success . . .

1 comment:

Teddy B. said...

Thank the Creator for you and your contribution to the "High Needs" community that our "Elected Officials" have cast adrift with no care or concern. It will be only throught the efforts of you and other professionals like yourself who "REALLY CARE", and are going to "WALK THE WALK" by rolling up their sleeves and jumping in and doing the work, lerst we wach our people get sucked down the drain. Because the plug has been pulled LONG AGO !!!!
Much Peace & Blessings and continued wishes for even Greater success in your contributions, because I KNOW YOU KNOW that the Greater pay-off will be far greater than anything we could ever imagine !