A slicer encouraged us to post stories about race…
When I was in my 20’s, I taught briefly at a racially divided school in an impoverished town in Delaware. It was November of 1985, and I was the third reading teacher to be hired that term to work with middle school students. The first two teachers had quit. I should have known that the situation would be problematic and over my head, but I was idealistic then, and I hoped to be an inspiring, caring teacher for kids who might not otherwise get good attention.
In my classroom, the kids regularly fought – white against black, black against white. Neither race made up a majority. I tried to do lessons that would engage the students in thoughtful conversation, but they were more accustomed to doing worksheets, one after another, with little interaction or processing. During lessons, when I called on a student, I would be interrupted by the shout, “You called on him because he is white!” and “You’re picking on him because he’s black!” I couldn’t win, and I was exasperated by the disorder and disrespect.
Once, there was a fight in the hallway between a white student and a black one, both of whom were bigger than I, as they had stayed back in previous years. Trying to break up the fight, I was slammed against the lockers. The onlooking students cheered. Eventually, the fight broke up, but I don’t remember how. I do, however, recall the moment of being humiliated and out of control of the situation.
I had great difficulty teaching at that school, not because the kids were white or black, but because their prejudice against each other ran so deep. (In contrast, I had already taught successfully four years at a prestigious private school, and that was much, much easier.) Unfortunately, I learned that I could not teach any students at any school, as I had hoped. After a number of months, I quit that job, leaving room for a fourth reading teacher to fill my place that year. I couldn’t overcome the hatred that was in the way of learning, and I gave up.