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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #8

“I’ve got too much pride. I don’t want help.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Monday, March 2 – 2:45 pm
M asks the visiting law school student, “Is law school hard? Because I want to be a lawyer and a doctor, and I think it will be hard to go to school for both.”

The law school student kind of laughs, thinking M might be joking. Law school AND med school? The visitor sees that M is 100 percent serious and responds.

“Yes. Law school is hard. It’s really hard, and I don’t think I could handle anything more than I’m already doing.”

M responds: “I want to be a lawyer to help put bad people away, but I want to be a doctor, too, because a doctor saved my mom when she had an aneurysm a few years ago.”

Wednesday, March 4 – 10:50 am
Someone from a college readiness program pulled T out of class today and asked him all kinds of questions: How are your grades? What is your plan? When are you taking the SAT? the ACT? What do you want to major in?

When I ask T about the meeting, he says, “That guy knew all kinds of stuff about me! And then he was asking me all kinds of questions. I don’t even know him!”

I explain that the man and the program specifically picked T out of the crowd to support him to get to college, that this was a great opportunity, that they clearly see something special in him and want to help him be successful.

T shakes his head.

“Why are you shaking your head? What do you have against people helping you? This is a gift! This is a wonderful opportunity!” I screech in my old white lady voice.

“My pride,” he says. “I’ve got too much pride. I don’t want help from him. He don’t even know me!”

Screeching: “He wants to help you!”

“That’s what you’re for,” he says to me. “You’re going to help me get into college. I don’t need another stranger in my life, getting all up in my business.”

I let him go, shaking my own head this time. I suspect he doesn’t want more people in his life because he doesn’t want more people knowing about his hardships. It’s true: It’s my job to help him get into college. But I can’t do it on my own.

Thursday March 12, 2:45 pm
It’s study hall today. I write passes for students to go see teachers and get homework help, and I offer my assistance to the students who stay in the room. It starts out as chaos, but it always settles down to some good productive work time. I get out from behind my desk and sit at a table with students. Without trying to talk over them, I get a chance to observe and appreciate them:

D  goes out of his way to say hello to me and hug me goodbye. He is an only child and lives with his mother in a one bedroom in the Mission. He has been playing the drums his entire life; he lives to make music.

B is everyone’s favorite. Despite the attention, he always comes to class and puts his head down and churns out his work. He tells his dad, “I love you” every time he talks to him on the phone, ever since one of his best friends was killed.

J is going to enroll in an art class this summer so she can take the maximum number of AP classes next year. She volunteers just about every weekend, and she’s constantly working on homework. Somehow, she manages to accompany her mother to her oncology appointments.

T is the funny guy, constantly cracking inappropriate jokes and then apologizing. He and D are music-making buddies, always talking beats and rhymes in class. He’s a natural performer, and I can never stay mad at him for more than two seconds.

N is too smart for his own good. He gets Fs in all his classes, then at the very last minute, pulls them up to Cs. He read The Divine Comedy earlier this year, and just recently finished A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. He works at the Academy of Sciences and plans to be a research scientist. But his GPA is terrible.

S came to us from Mali in September. He barely speaks English, but he speaks way more than he did seven months ago. He is unfailingly polite, always greeting me with a “Bonjour! Ça va?” in the morning. All the kids love him so much. I worry a little bit about the words he learns from them. He’s six-foot-eight with blue-black skin, thin as a rail, so he stands out even before he opens his mouth.

A won’t let me get close to him. He won’t let anyone get close to him. He’s all toughness and surly on the outside, but every once in a while, he’ll show some vulnerability, like when he talks about his new puppy, or when his mom comes for a meeting and he kisses her on the cheek. He’ll be a great lawyer, once he decides to do what it takes.

C is a straight-A student. He gets his work done without fail. But he’s bored by schoolwork. He’s got big dreams to go away to college—maybe out of state or even out of the country!—but I worry that his SAT score will keep him from getting into the schools he wants. High school has been easy. College is going to kick his ass.

Monday March 16 – 2:30 pm
The counselor, Ms. S., tells the other junior advisers and me that the registration deadline for the April ACT is fast approaching, and the SAT registration is coming up in a few weeks. Do we want her to come to our class and help sign kids up?

I tell her, “But they’re not ready! They haven’t studied! They’re just babies!” I don’t really call them babies, but I’m thinking it. Obviously they are not babies, with their cell phones and their surly mouths and their near-adult behaviors. But it seems crazy to me that it’s time for them to take the SAT and start thinking about college applications! How can that be? They are barely juniors!

They are not barely juniors. They are in their last quarter of their junior year of high school, and it is time for them to think about college applications and SATs and moving on with their lives.

I can only imagine how their mothers must feel. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

7 comments

  1. Marni Spitz

    We just registered for the SAT in my class last week and I felt so similarly about my “babies” and the entire college process. Feeling almost way too much. Thanks for the post. Good reminder for me to pay extra special attention to appreciate the wonderful humans tomorrow in my class tomorrow. 🙂

  2. Heidi

    Junior year is such a great and stressful time. Loved reading the little insights you have about the young scholars you work with. Great work.

  3. Mark Isero

    Your anecdote about T was so spot on. It reminds me of Victor Rios’s *Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys.* Dr. Rios explores how, for some boys of color, the idea of accepting help from “the system” may mean sacrificing your dignity. Plus I agree with T: It’s a little creepy when a stranger knows a lot about you. Still, I hope that you’re able to persuade him to take on the support because, well, college.

  4. mgodwin72

    Thanks for that, Mark. Yes, I think there are plenty of reasons why someone – particularly a Black, teenage boy – would be wary of outside help from someone he’s never met before and who seems to know all kinds of personal information about him. But I’ll keep trying to persuade him, because college will entail lots and lots of help from “the system” (I hope).

Please share your brilliant insights!