Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Story from an Inner City Classroom

My husband is an art teacher in the inner city public school system. As an incredibly talented artist, poet, and writer, he can't get supplies, has had his schedule repeatedly changed and added to, and has long since given up projects in ceramics, painting, needlework due to the mischief that occurs when the materials and tools necessary for these projects are put in the hands of students.

Yesterday, he came home with this story of a first grader in one of his art classes:

"A young boy in the class has 'anger management issues'. He is belligerent. He gets off the bus pushing and shoving, cutting in line, bullying other kids. Yesterday, shortly after his teacher brought the class to art, he left his seat and moved to the table of another girl and stood over her, glowering and fuming, and finally shouting out, "Get out of my face!" My husband got this all sorted out and moved some students around to different seats. Minutes later, he was up again, standing over another girl in another part of the room and screaming at her to 'leave him alone'. This second incident was too much, so my husband called his mother and then proceeded to try and coax the boy out into the hall to talk to his mother on the phone. He was, of course, reluctant, and all the while my husband was trying to de-escalate the situation and get the boy out of the room, the class was chanting, "Get mad, Conner! Get mad, Conner!" Eventually the boy exited, spoke to his mother and went down to the office."

What's the point to relating this story? I'm not sure, but it's shocking, horrific, and a window into the inner city classroom that no one but the teacher (and the students) fully see.


  1. *SIGH* Does anyone truly believe that you can help a child who WANTS to be left behind?

  2. I am an inner-city special education teacher in Harlem. Nearly all of my high school students have behavioral disorders. What you must always remember when you go into a classroom full of inner-city kids is that many of them truly have something to be angry about. At least half of my students jump from foster family to foster family, shelter to shelter. They all have one thing in common, however: they ALL want to learn, regardless of what they tell you or how they act in school. If you differentiate your instruction, have a "no excuses" attitude, and constantly and consistently give them positive reinforcement then you are doing your job. No child wants to be left behind. You must also remember that not all students want to go to college but that doesn't mean that they don't want to succeed in life. LISTEN to them, provide them with resources that they need, and give them the attention that they desperately need. I hope this helps, and good luck.

  3. I listened for 19 years, Em. NO ONE listened to me. Not the kids, not the administration. The apathy, the indifference towards their own education, the cruelty they demonstrated to me and to their fellow students got to be more than I wanted to deal with every day. I quit teaching on September 6th, 2008.

    Obviously, I still feel quite angry about having wasted my time and talents for 19 years...let me know where you are when you have 19 years in, okay?

    I'm glad you care enough about what you're doing to respond, however... Thanks for reading.

  4. I too am an art teacher in an inner city school. If you wish, have your husband email me. I can truly say- our behavior gets much worse with our first graders! I can share what i do, but I would appreciate hearing his management ideas- or trials :)