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Power Struggle

December 9, 2011

Photo by Laura Slotkoff

By Tiffany Montano, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Sarah T. Reed High School

Sometimes I dread going to some of my classes.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the kids in this class.  It’s the love that I have for these kids that makes that particular part of my day so difficult.  We all know that the students of New Orleans are not getting all that they need to grow into mature adults.

There are problems at home – problems we cannot help or control.  One of the students I work closely with (we’ll call him Raheim) was instructed to write a poem using imagery (i.e. appealing to the reader’s five senses).  I was heartbroken to read that, for his “Where I’m From” poem, he described the sight of dead people and guns and the sounds of gunshots and crying.  Another one of my students threatened a classmate today.  He said she was lucky that he is against violence.  I wish I would have had the time to explain to him that threats are violent.  Meanwhile, it has become abundantly clear to me that the student who was threatened (and also threatening her classmate in return) has been severely abused.  This is why she lashes out, why she sleeps in class, and undoubtedly a big part of why she is 17 years old and still in the 9th grade.

Issues at home are issues that we, in the schools and in the short-term, cannot change.  What’s particularly disturbing is that there are things that the school could have the power to change but is simply not equipped.  We need more manpower.  We are here in the trenches every day and it’s beautiful but exhausting.  Today, I stepped into a class that I often dread and witnessed another day of the slow decay of these students’ education.  I bounce between at least 10 students who I know need one-on-one attentionall of the time.  But I can’t be in 10 places at once.

What these students are lacking is not motivation.  They are motivated.  They want to learn.  They want to learn so much that while I’m bouncing back and forth between them, they’re tugging at my sleeves as I rush by, like, “when are you going to help me?” 

And it breaks my heart.

As I was sitting with one student (I’ll call him Charlie), I noticed that another student I work closely with had stopped reading and was letting himself get distracted by the chaos around him.  I had told him earlier, “This is the part where you put on your headphones really loud and ignore everyone else around you because you can do this,” and it worked for a while.  But when he stopped reading, I called out to him to keep going!  Charlie obstructed my view of the other student, calling to him, “Come on, man, keep reading so she can help me.

I love all of these students with all of my heart.  They make me smile, laugh, and even cry in the privacy of my own home when I’m thinking of what they endure every day.  Their experiences humble me the same way my academic knowledge humbles them.   This is why I sometimes dread pieces of my day.  Ironically, it’s those worst experiences, and the revelations that follow from them, that keep me coming back.  I know I’m making a difference and that City Year and the dedicated staff at this school are chipping away at the walls that these students find themselves trapped behind.

We just need more manpower.



One Comment leave one →
  1. December 10, 2011 11:36 pm

    Tiffany, you just said it all, exactly how it is, in such a powerful yet eloquent way. Thank you for this post.

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