I read this today and found myself relating a lot to this reader submission from Rage Against the Minivan, What I Want You to Know About Being a Teacher in a High Poverty School. Maybe our schools aren't quite the same but I've definitely been in that position where people hear where we teach and pause, maybe even give a quizzical look with arched eyebrows. I know the questions that come with that well. Our district is different than the writer's school in that we are a very mixed district, where we have a lot of immigrant kids, a lot of kids learning English, a lot of poor kids, all sitting next to kids who have very "white" middle class backgrounds, who were raised on farms, whose parents are nurses and mechanics and small business owners, all sitting next to kids whose parents are lobbyists or college presidents or doctors.
So if I had to answer that question of what my years in our district have been like I'd say that it's having your heart sink a bit when you hear that the third grade sister of one of your students, the sister who seemed to appear out of nowhere is now here because she was old enough to walk across the desert.
It's watching a fist fight break out on an indoor soccer field, hoping our team doesn't get thrown out for fighting but still feeling proud because when our kid was right in the thick of it, one of his teammates pushed someone from the opposing team. That's something you'd never normally cheer for but just this once, you do. Because it's the first time you've seen a white kid have the back of one of his Hispanic teammates.
It's having your heart swell a bit when one of your former first graders, who by all standards has the odds stacked against him, who started out needing help with reading, reads to you as a seventh grader, showing off that he is now one of the best readers in his grade.
It's never knowing if that kid without the coat, if that kid wearing too tight and too short pants, if they are defying their parents, making a fashion statement, or just wearing the only clothes they have.
It's smiling because my kids (the ones who live in my house not the ones in my class) know what pupusas and menudo and lengua tacos are, even if they aren't brave enough to try the last two.
It's sitting at parent teacher conferences and sharing the story one of your students wrote for his writing exam, the story he wrote about his parents' birth country, Vietnam, and seeing his dad smile and tell you their story, all of it, from being boat people who landed in Canada to meeting his wife and getting married and having kids.
It's knowing that some of our kids came out of war zones like Bosnia.
It's hearing colleagues tell you that they have to hurry outside because one of their student's mom is dropping off tamales for them, just because.
It's helping line kids up outside on the first day of kindergarten, watching moms and dads entrust the school with their babies, seeing a variety of faces and knowing that all those moms and dads are basically thinking the same thing, no matter their ethnicity.
It's having a child tell you that the houses the Indians lived in, the ones made out of sticks, that those look a lot like the houses they lived in in Burma, before their mom walked to Cambodia to give birth to their little sister.
It's wondering how on earth you can do right be every kid, knowing our building holds a child who spent his summer vacation in Europe touring places like the Louvre, another child who has probably a hundred books on his bookshelf, another child who has no bookshelf and shares a mattress on the floor with his sister, and another child who came to kindergarten not knowing how to use scissors, how to write his name, or any of his letters and numbers.
It's finding yourself frustrated that there aren't enough resources to keep kids in school when going to work seems easier, to really figure out if it's a language issue or a learning disability issue especially for that high schooler who you know can't read, to make sure that every kid gets a shot at college if that's what they really want.
It's waiting to write names on desk name tags and textbooks because if you do it even a week before school, you will have to redo probably 5-6 of them out of your class of 20 due to students moving in and out of the district.
It's knowing that you didn't set out to be in this place but believing that this place is a great place to be.
That's probably what I would say if you asked.