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I write an inmate who was a former classmate and sent him worksheets to help him obtain his GED

So often teachers and parents complain about their children.  We must take moments to truly applaud them.  I recall meeting with two of the Greensboro Four when I taught at North Carolina A&T State University.  I had the pleasure of also getting the autograph and words of wisdom from Joseph McNeil.  He left my entire class “full.”  We were so full from the words.  One thing that stood out was his comment stating that my students, this generation have more challenges than he and others during this time faced.  In my mind disagreed; automatically.  This was 2009-2010.  Fast forward years later and I still am blown by his words.  I mean...

They faced so much during the Civil Rights; dogs, water hoses, ill-appropriate words, embarrassment…but when I sit and think on it, our students do too.  We have social media, we have a larger world of technology where we compare and contrast ourselves to others.  Students become fixated on a false perception of life.  We have individuals that make attempts at sweeping important things under the rug.  Our society is much more “open,” which does allow us to judge, hurt, humiliate, and taunt…

Even in this field called education, I see it.  Why can’t we just get along?  We are educators wanting the same final result, right?  To assist with the plight of education by any means?  Is that why you are teaching?  I know that is why I teach and conduct PD’s. 

I want educators, superintendents, and principals, along with other stakeholders to be open-minded.  I want them to realize that their lives are not the lives of their kids.  I want them to be so humble that they can actually make a comment like Mr. Joseph McNeil.  A man who was part of history who commented to my students that they have it harder because he can see….that his life is not the life of our babies. 

For about fifteen years I have written an inmate.  This inmate was a middle school and high school classmate of mine. He recently sent an email sharing that, 

“Society wasn’t there, or my family, so a lot of my life I thought would be behind the walls. Built through the years.”  This saddens me because I still see our society; particularly teachers who I have worked with that fail our boys that look like him.  I know that my son has been one of those males that teachers have made every attempt to destroy.  And now at 16, in 11th grade if his dad an I were not educated, were not in education, who knows where he would be.  We made teachers work for him.  That is why we teach, correct?  We cannot assume every chid learns the same?  

And I do this in my classroom.  My job is to WORK for my students.  While my paychecks have not always (ever actually) reflected all that I do, they love for my profession is honestly all that I need to do what I do.  

My son loves art, but that doesn’t mean his 7th grade math teacher had to comment that he was never going to be good at math.  What do you think this did to him?  It lowered his morale, so his dad and I had to find ways to help him.  He went to tutoring, we went to more tutoring, we praised him, and as an educator, I found ways to promote self-efficacy when his white teacher made such a comment.  But, sadly it was not just him she said that about, but because of my background, I was able to help my son and he is still above average in math.  He has completed all the required math to graduate.  

I know he desires to be an artist, and his father and I embrace this.  We allowed him to develop his own company, we push him to network and email artists that he can intern under and this shows him so much.  As teachers this might be your job; particularly because all students might not have parents like my son, but it is not your job to judge and get frustrated.  It is your job to assist with he plight of the educational system to avoid pushing young black males out to be hopeless.  I actually recall that meeting with his 7th grade math teacher, his 3rd grade teacher, 4th grade teacher, and every other meeting we have always had with his teachers.  They always come to the meetings showcasing statistics.  That doesn’t mean anything to me even as an educator because sometimes just the love from a teacher with proper nurturing will improve numbers.  

The job of a teacher is to promote positivity.  The job of that teacher is to educate the child and #MakeThemBelieve that they can do anything that they want.  The inmate and I are working on a book to show the parallels of our life; growing up in Newport News, Va and showing how two people who went to the same schools turned out completely different and he answers one of my questions: 

Me: What did I want to do when I grow up?

Him: I had a football phase between 9 and 13, however sitting here thinking back my mind set at the time prevented me from positive thoughts.  From the age of 14 or 15, I really believed I wasn’t going to see 21…I truly believed that in my heart.  Down town was ruff, to e honest a complete hell hole, as I look back though that community needed a lot of  love and help from otur leaders, but that’s another story.

He also remembers when we first started writing each other.  He has all of our letters, but since I have moved so much, I have a lot, but definitely not all.  He remembers when he was working on his GED and shares "…during the time when you were sending me worksheets to help out with my writing, if I haven’t already said it thank you for that, you didn’t have to.”  

So as you continue with your year, take a moment to get to know your students.  Take moments to stop gossiping about your students and making assumptions, and instead do what your job entails; #MakeThemBelieve.

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