Today welcomed a new first into my novice teacher world: the first time my curriculum and reading choices were both challenged and criticized.
Option A: cite your sources
While being challenged by someone with an opinion and an ego, I felt obligated to say, “Well, my Yoda taught this, and she kicked ass for years.. So why is it different for me?” My initial reaction led me to an unnerving desire to cite my sources as justification (such an English major thing to do). I mean, how could anyone challenge Yoda?!
Option B: get mad, get proud
Amidst the bullshit that flew about what should and shouldn’t be taught, I have to admit, I got mad. Mom mad. “Oh, YOU’RE picking on my kid?” mad. And then the beauty came- I got proud. I know that I have a long road ahead of me full of missteps and bad decisions, but let me tell you something, blogosphere, anything driven by passion is not a misdirection. It’s the direction.
During this.. debacle, I realized how passionate I am about teaching African American lit. I’m shameless to admit that while working in a predominately black urban community, I was initially worried about the welcome I’d receive discussing slavery, segregation, and civil rights. Much to my surprise, my nonfiction poetry unit on segregation through the Harlem Renaissance has been the most revered part of my repertoire this year. Concurrently, the novel we are currently enjoying has inspired the highest homework and classwork averages from any novel this far.
So there I sat at my desk, with passion spewing from every pore and sunshine being released through every word, explaining my rationale for teaching segregation to a clearly divided community and how life lessons are the most important lessons to this haterade-filled ego.
“Wow. I didn’t know you liked that sort of thing.”
Just imagine the face I made.
My community is most definitely divided by color. When attending a football game to support my former students, I was the only white spectator in the stands; at tonight’s baseball game, there was only one black player on either team. When my former students came to sit with me to support my “new kids”, they were watched by the majority of the surrounding fans as if there didn’t belong in the park across the street from their homes. Maybe this town isn’t Two Mills with a clear “Hector Street” dividing line splitting up the races; that doesn’t mean there isn’t a disconnect.
The more time I spent with my kids remising while freezing at this game, the more I realized that the afore mentioned bag of air is full of it. My stories relate to the lives my students lead. There aren’t wizards and talking lions to distract from the real world; these stories embrace what these kids know. They celebrate them.
As the momma bear anger receded, I was left with three great kids, a baseball game, and a reminder of why I love what I do. Over the course of two hours, the three boys and I discussed just about everything. A is the thinker, the conniver of schemes and creator of plays. B is the fearless, the brave and risk-drawn. C, my dear C, is a walking heart, driven by his feelings both inside and out. There they were, three brothers, three back stories, three dreams for high school and the years after. They are their own letters from the same alphabet.
I guess this overdue mess is themed around celebrating the greatness that goes unacknowledged within each of us. Don’t let someone diminish your hard work or belittle what is most important to you. Don’t let anyone dull your shine, regardless of if you fit into the standardized mold provided for you. Be your own letter, and love every damn minute of it.
Thank you, boys, for rekindling the flame.