My initiation into a Title I school (a school with a large economically disadvantaged population) took only about two weeks.
I plopped down on a nice leather sofa awaiting to speak to an administrator, and found myself sharing the couch with a girl with the stoic demeanor of a statue. She wore a messy pair of jeans and some dirty tennis shoes. Her undershirt barely covered her bellybutton, like it was a few sizes too small, and her crossed arms and scowling face screamed, "Don't talk to me."
But of course, I wanted to talk to her.
She was also waiting to speak to an administrator, but for a different reason. She was in trouble.
With a little prompting, she seemed relieved to share her story with someone who wasn't about to hand her a sentence of In-School Suspension. She proudly proclaimed her crime: skipping third-period biology class.
I asked why she wanted to forego dissecting frogs, which sounded way more fun than writing an essay in an English class like mine. She replied with keen honesty, "Why do I need biology? So, why go? I told them I wasn't going."
My next question: "Who is 'them'?" A simple question, but the answer was the opposite of simple. They were the overseers at the third girls home where she was sent to live. My breath was revoked; my heart skipped a beat. My intrigue urged more questions.
She described a place where nightly battles of dominance challenged the core of her natural instincts for survival, where possessions were guarded and defended at all cost. Valor was a virtue; a lack of fear was a necessity.
She was an orphan, left on the streets and picked up by the state. I had never met an orphan before, and I was enthralled by her story. I think she picked up on my intrigue and answered every question with an unfiltered honesty I respected.
So, there she sat. A shirt too small. A life too challenged.
And there I sat. Learning a quick lesson in the realities of "Title I Kids."
What I learned during that initiation into teaching at a school like Jordan High was simple, a lesson I think every one of us should learn. The majority of us reading this story are blessed. We do not have to sleep with all of our clothes on out of fear of dispossession. We do not eat every meal in some form of a cafeteria, having no choice at what is on our plate.
We do not judge the necessity of an education based on how it can help us survive -- we judge the need for an education based upon how it can make us thrive, and what a stark difference that is.
Teachers in Muscogee County face countless shirts too small, youths displaced by society, and innocents merely wanting to survive who do not see the value in learning biology. The challenge is making education relevant to these kids. The familiar sentiment that an entire village is needed to raise
a child is so true. Teachers certainly cannot do it alone, but often we feel like we are.
But what can we do, you ask? I don't have the answers, but we can start with acknowledging that these children matter -- and listening. We can take a seat on a couch next to the ignored, and we can listen.
Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org