“I Care”

File:Trayvon Martin.jpg

I teach middle school English in a low-income school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  About a third of my students are black, a third Hispanic, and a third white.  Who knows how many are American Indian. 

Nearly all of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch.  They get breakfast at school daily, and for some these meals are all they eat during the day.  The average eighth grader reads on a sixth grade level, and if they make it to their senior year, most will read like ninth graders.  43% will drop out.  Only one in ten of those who do graduate will go to college.  One in three of the young black men will go to prison.

Our school has problems.

Academically, the biggest problem that my students face is apathy.  So few of them have seen what getting a good education looks like, so few of them give a damn.  School for them is a place where they go to “chill,” to learn about who jumped whom over the weekend, and to get a laugh at all the mayhem.  Not all, but most see it like this.  And for a teacher who knows just how much getting an education would improve their lives and their families’ lives, their apathy leads to frustration and madness.

Last week I decided to take a week to read about Trayvon Martin with my eighth graders, mostly because I figured most of them would care.  They harbor the belief that anything that bores them is useless to them and they have the right to not learn it.  I hate encouraging that belief, but after seven months of this, picking a high-interest topic meant less stress for me, and that seemed worth it.

We opened with an article discussing what happened to him on that tragic evening, but then we also read some additional articles trying to answer a bigger question: What has happened in our country’s history that has allowed something like this to happen? 

We read about Jim Crow.  We read about the “War on Drugs.”  Our word of the week was “incarceration.”  And since our city was the site of the worst race riot in US history, some of the kids accessed that prior information as well.  We had discussions, we wrote out questions, and at the end of the week, we wrote letters to Trayvon Martin’s parents. 

It was not a bad week, overall.

I am sitting at my desk a few days later, entering grades for the letter writing assignment, reading and thinking about all my students wrote.  For once, very few of them were apathetic, and that makes me choked up, honestly.  I am so used to them not caring, seeing all they had to say is pretty intense. 

One girl wrote:

Dear Ms. Fulton,

The reason I’m writing this letter to you is because I honestly feel bad for your predicament.  I know that you hear this all the time people writing you and calling you and remind you of what happened, just making you mad, and sad with divverent emotions.

I can’t even say I understand what your going through I’m just a kid myself, But I have empathy and sympathy for you.  I want you to stay a strong black women for Trayvon.  He is in a better place, and he doesn’t even know what’s happening.  He is happy.

We all know what really happened.  I know everyone is getting you or telling you their opinions.  Maybe you don’t even want mine.  But everybody is trying to make Zimmerman go to jail or even possibly killed, and I think he should just go to jail, because killing him is making it to easy. 

I think it would be hard to stop racism right now, but if everybody work together to stop this we are saving African Americans, Caucasians, Mexicans, and more.  We would be saving teens, adults, children.  If we all from different races work together.

So stay strong and be happy for Trayvon.  You being happy would make him happy.  And tell Mr. Martin what I told you.  And don’t worry we are ALL here for you.

Love, Your Friend Kim

 Kim is the type of student who has already decided to fight for her education.  There are a handfull in each class who come in quietly with set jaws, pencils gripped steadily, who occasionally shout out the rudest, most frustrating insults to the teacher because they are literally DEMANDING an education.  THIS IS STUPID.  THIS IS EASY.  I THOUGHT YOU WANTED US TO GO TO COLLEGE!! 

Honestly, I’m a little scared of these students, afraid that they’re going to call me out as a fraud or something.  Their words hurt a lot, considering I’m working my ass off to help them.  The students I love working with the most are the truly apathetic ones.  And it was a letter to Trayvon’s parents from one of these kids that moved me the most while grading them just now.  It just says everything: I’ve given up, I don’t see the point, I have too much to deal with right now.  But even so, I’m still a person. 

This student was so apathetic, in twenty minutes they only wrote two words down on the page.  All the student wrote was “I care.”

 

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~ by Rachael on April 3, 2012.

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