I Thought I Was Ready
2.04.15 By Malcolm King
BTR didn’t prepare me for everything. It was a tremendous program, probably the best of its kind. Our 13 months of rigorous preparation almost makes me feel boastful of the ranged approach and depth of curriculum instructional strategies in my teaching arsenal. I can unit plan, formatively asses, adjust my pacing, dip stick, re-engage, connect with parents, build a safe space, and give kids an authentic opportunity to write.
My CTE, Julie Sloan, is still the voice in my head three years later when I sit down to write my weekly objectives or when I’m looking over a graphic organizer I’ve created. I actually have a zero tolerance policy for giving kids worksheets without directions on it. My CT is still the nagging presence in my mind reminding of how to maintain this cautious balance between classroom management and a deep understanding of English and Language Arts content.
And still, I wasn’t prepared for it.
How could you be? There’s no real way to prepare teachers for the sometimes harsh reality that is educating minority students in impoverished communities. You can teach them about close reading and higher order thinking strategies. You can show them positive examples and reinforce your unwavering belief in their ability to change the world around them in spite of overwhelming circumstances. And you can teach them about the cycle of poverty—how the lack of opportunity or education—begets people who land in the intersection with the cycle of violence.
You can feed them and let them take refuge in your room and talk to them about how your love for them doesn’t mean they don’t have to be accountable to you or others. And still, you can’t prepare yourself for the reality of their worlds. BTR did its best in trying to help me dissect what my kids are up against.
And still, I was unprepared for it.
This January, a bullet fired in the cold winter air took away all that my student would be. How does one prepare for that? You can’t. And I think the question I’ve been dealing with since his death is how do I continue to carry on, even when my heart is broken?
My own naïveté made me believe that my love and courage to believe in my kids was enough to keep them safe, but it’s not. It’s one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in education. You can’t save them all. And you know with everything in you that you want to.
But what made me get up and go to school the day after he was murdered was the idea that my kids, his peers, need me. And what’s more, I needed them. The first day back my kids and I wept fitfully. And I held some of the toughest kids in my arms while they sobbed at this tragedy. There was no way to brace myself for that and even as I write this I have trouble believing he’s gone. We held a memorial service for him at school, his neighborhood hosted a vigil, and even now my class is prepping to go to his funeral in full support of his mother at this most difficult time.
And perhaps no one can prepare for the desperate finality of a gun shot, for the harsh sting of gang violence, for the jarring pain of losing a son. And yet, we carry on because we must. We stand tall because through each other, my students and I find strength. And by daring to talk about it, we defy statistics and stereotypes that would suggest every urban kid is doomed from the start, every black or Latino has nothing going for them, every gang member’s death doesn’t matter to the people around them.
My student touched us all. And we will continue to find vocabulary to memorialize him and raise a fist to a greater good for those just like him trying to find a way out. And I can’t give up on him, on them. I won’t.
When I was still a Resident in BTR they had us read this article called “When Hope is Subversive.”* It talked about how your hope, your patience, your love had to be a conscious effort every day when you got up to teach because our children deserve that. And they need that. And this world needs them because their lives matter, more even than sometimes they realize. I guess BTR did prepare me. And I’m arming up for the war of my life with the best weapon I have, the best weapon there is to keep us all from giving up: love. Let’s start fighting for a better day.more from Malcolm King on the blog