Teaching in the Terrordome
Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Missouri Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
I. First Year
1. The School Beside the Cemetery
“Never drive west of MLK,” a friend advised before I learned I’d teach every day in a school two miles west of Martin Luther King Boulevard. “I drove west of MLK last night,” said another friend, a future teacher, “and a cop stopped me at a light, told me to turn around. Go back, he told us. He said a white person’s car got set on fire west of MLK. He said they were ...
2. Teacher Boot Camp
Should you decide to become a Teach For America teacher—should you decide, that is, to throw yourself without any teaching experience into one of the nation’s toughest rural or urban schools and vow to work relentlessly for its improvement—you’ll hear plenty of dissenting voices. You’ll read them in newspaper commentaries and from education critics, and ...
3. First Day
Don’t let them see you vulnerable. Be firm. If you look weak, they will walk on you forever. Engage them. If you don’t engage them, they won’t care about learning, and you’ll lose their interest forever. Smile—it sets the tone for the rest of the semester. Don’t smile. Never smile. Don’t smile until Christmas. Get contact information from them. You need their con-...
4. The Plot of Marigolds
Three days later, Southwestern High School made the news for a massive fight that broke out in its cafeteria. The cafeteria was located far enough from my classroom to exist in another dimension, so I neither saw nor heard the brawl, but I quickly learned it wasn’t your average school rumble, or at least not average for my suburban high school, where two or ...
5. When The State Walks In
If you scanned a sheet of Southwestern High School statistics, you’d see underneath the bolded headings, such as Student Population, that the school had a total enrollment of about 1,600, that (Ethnicity) 86 percent of our students were African American, 13 and change were white, and a These are rather benign digits. But you’d also see under Population ...
6. Barely Passing
Coach Powell was a light-skinned, middle-aged man with a gravelly voice like low-grade sandpaper. I’d heard he had a proclivity for flirting with the young teachers. At the school’s pre-year retreat, I’d seen him corner a new teacher who’d just graduated from a local college. Powell got two feet from her, lowered his eyes and mumbled something, and she’d ...
7. Happy Hour
On Fridays at five, we—Noelani, Amy, Ellen, Brooke, and I—all sat in the dark, wood-adorned pubs of Baltimore’s gentrified neighborhoods—Fells Point, Federal Hill—and drank porters and lagers from pint-glasses, half-believing each sip would coax our minds away from that big school on the hill. But sip after sip brought us right back to Southwestern....
8. Do Over
Fuck it, chuck it, do it over. Southwestern High School’s academic schedule echoed the sentiment in my students’ crumpled paper-balls of frustrated work. In January, teachers got all new classes; kids got all new teachers. Goodbye rowdy third period with loquacious hair-braiding Kia and free-style rapping Derek. Goodbye lethargic first period; goodbye ...
9. Disarming the Alarm
What seemed like every day, in any given minute between 8:45 and 3:15, the school’s alarm system activated. While I took attendance. In the middle of the drill. In that precious second when silence fell upon my class like snow, and every kids’ eyes focused. While a normally absent, usu-ally angry kid finally read something he’d written aloud. As another...
II. Second Year
10. The Revolving Principals
Ms. Ryder’s sun-yellow gauze pants and matching sun-yellow blouse
blew in the hot September wind. Beside her were walking flags of other
primary colors: Ms. Patterson, stouter than Ryder, in cranberry. Another
mid-sized woman in shimmering peacock green.
“Everyone’s dressed in their Sunday best,” said Noelani with a sigh from the driver’s seat.
11. Killing the Kitten
Anthony Smalls was ten baggy-jean-waddling strides away from his science class, and he was headed there. On his way from where? I never knew, but Anthony strutted in an empty hallway wearing the unofficial male uniform of sagging sweatpants and knee-length Hanes white T-shirt, looking like any lone hallwalker of Southwestern. Only Anthony did not ...
12. Reading Powhite Trash
They were mostly black, I was white. They lived in the inner-city, I grew up in the suburbs. They knew bus systems and row homes and the subtle-ties of local drug-pyramids. I knew minivans and spacious isolated back-yards and after-school specials starring skinny white kids whose characters popped stimulants so they could pull all-nighters. I grew up middle class, ...
13. Northern Exposure
“Karrren!” Wallace beckoned me with a holler that carried out of her
office, past the doorways that separated us, and into my classroom. I had
second period off.
I popped my head in. She sat at her desk, hands holding a sandwich together. “Let me see your writing folders.”...
14. Elisabeth Shue Loves Us
Because it was a weekday night, we had sore feet from standing all day and sore throats from speaking (slash shouting) all day, but by God, we were going anyway, because tickets that cost forty dollars for the general public had been given to us for free. Because we Taught for America. Because we served the nation’s underprivileged schools, ...
15. One Hundred and Forty
The grass surrounding the half-charred tree in the school’s front yard had turned from straw-yellow to rich green. The kids in the hallway—or whoever remained—no longer wore hoodie sweatshirts over their T-shirts. By June, the building was warm. It was also kind of sleepy. Southwestern succumbed to heat like a beast that submits to some hypnotic charmer and ...
Today, I have one photo on my desk from the final Teach For America banquet: Noelani, Amy, Ellen, Brooke, and I are standing in front of a patchwork quilt of cherry-red circles and emerald green squares. Our arms are wrapped loosely around one another. The flash of the camera reflects against our foreheads, causing them to shine. We’re smiling broadly and, ...
About the Author
Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012
OCLC Number: 868217547
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Teaching in the Terrordome