Reflections from a Teacher
By: Maria Glass
I just retired from 22 years of teaching, 2 as an ESL adult educator, 7 as bilingual/ESL middle school language arts and 13 as a high school English and creative writing teacher. In 1994 I did my student teaching in Peoria in a predominantly white middle class school. Of course, I spoke with an accent, which allowed some (teachers and students) to believe I was not qualified, even though I was an English major and fluent in 5 languages. My "cooperative" teacher accepted me because she was going through a custodial battle with the Apache father of her adoptive son. I heard her say numerous times that "her" son was "only 18% Indian". -no comment-. Part of the training I requested was to sit on diverse classes. One was a gifted program, 17 kids, all white except for 1 Asian, most children of teachers. They had 2 teachers, were allowed to sit on the floor and chew gum. Another was a remedial English. 40 kids sitting in rows, one teacher at a lectern and worksheets after worksheets. I immediately realized that Blacks and Hispanics made the bulk. I was angry and, needless to say, didn't apply in that district. Instead, I got my first job in the Dysart District middle school, 67% Hispanic, poor and rural constantly overrun in their quest bond by the retiree community within their district limits. Aside from me, I counted 2 Hispanic teachers and one counselor. No Black teacher. However, the entire janitor and cafeteria staff was Hispanic. My students probably realized that too. In the library, you could fit on one shelf the books that told THEIR history and spoke to THEIR lives. They came to me for help when a math teacher hit them with a ruler on their shoulders for not standing fast enough for the pledge, or a science teacher told them to go back to Mexico if they wanted to speak Spanish. I had a nice conversation with a history teacher when, after hearing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in my class, a student asked him why they didn't learn about it in history and the teacher responded, "Who cares about that?"I could go on and on, My first generation parents worked in the fields and their kids were the sweetest and most dedicated. However, the bulk of the two gangs that tried to run the school were born here. And they were angry. I stopped fights daily. I am only 5'2 and most of the kids were much bigger than I was but I never once was hurt because I stopped the fights BEFORE they occurred. I never had a fight in my classroom, where there was a tacit truce. I heard teachers telling me that I was crazy and that I should "just let them kill each other". So many kids were sent home for weeks on end for trivial infractions. Many of those kids are now in their 30s, married with children and my friends on FB. When I left, one of them, Hugo, told me I was quitting on them. It broke my heart, but I was exhausted by the system. Why do I share this, and please don't call it teacher bashing? Because this is the reality for too many minority kids and it needs to be told. I know it. You know it. For some to say that BAT speaking against the killing of Michael Brown and so many young men of color is not part of our BAT mission scares me. It tells me that some are unaware of what is going on in our society or, scarier even, refuse to acknowledge the reality. Dante said that "the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who, in time of moral uncertainty, choose to remain neutral." As a Buddhist, I do not believe in hell, but I believe in karma. If a teacher is not willing to fight for the Michael Browns among us because they are afraid for their tenure, then they do not deserve tenure. I will remain a BAT and I will keep fighting for equality and justice in our society because it is at the core of what is happening in our educational system. I said my piece.