[This is a backlogged post]
My school had our Awards Day Program, which is an assembly to celebrate the successes of our students. Last year’s program was a terrible embarrassment for our school because two girls made the poor decision to fight in the middle of the program. Imagine 800 students packed in an auditorium; it was extremely crowded. These girls caused a ruckus right in the middle and the kids around them unwittingly blocked the nearby teachers from getting to the fight. I was about ten rows back, but as one of the closest male teachers, I ended up hurdling over a couple seats to get to the altercation. Needless to say, it was extremely embarrassing for our school. I remember feeling bitter because I didn’t have a lot of students being honored; instead, they were involved in fights, which was disheartening.
This year, it was good to see students rewarded and recognized. There were not a lot of black males being honored for academic achievement, a common trend, but the gender balance improved a bit from last year. Of particular note were the six students who achieved all A’s for the entire year. I was really impressed and glad to see this honor included two young men. When I think about the achievement gap, I am concerned about boys like them, who are academically gifted and work hard to excel in school; these kids face numerous additional challenges that may impeded their future success. This is not fair.
Now, the reason I was so late with this particular post is due to what happened afterwards. I won’t elaborate too much other than to say that there was a big fight in the parking lot after the graduation dance. I was particularly perturbed because a few of my female students from my first year were key instigators in the altercation. They made my life a living hell last year and words can’t describe how angry I was that they could return to the school and ruin the celebration for my current students. I hated that my kids had to witness grown adults fighting and 14-year-old girls getting mace to the face while being beat down to the ground. However, it was my current students reactions that really made me sad. As parents picked up kids, our administrators and three male teachers were the only staff remaining, so we were keeping our remaining kids away from the altercation scene as best as we could. While waiting with his sister, one of my homeroom boys said: “this wouldn’t happen at a white graduation. Only black people fight like this.” This is exactly what sickens me most about the conditions my students live in; they have such negative stereotypes about their own people ingrained in their young, impressionable minds. No child should ever think so poorly about themselves. Personally, I want to live in a society where black men expect better for themselves and have evidence to support this greater self-esteem and self-image. [I recently did a pitch for such an initiative here called “Swagger Like Us”]
On a brighter note, the night was not completely lost. My student who wants to be a science teacher told me not to worry because he wouldn’t let a bunch of hooligans ruin his graduation: “It’s okay, Mr. B, I won’t let them ruin my graduation!” We later had a great conversation about not letting jealous boys bring him down. He wants to go to one of the private schools next year to avoid the perceived “prison-like” atmosphere of the district’s 9th Grade Academy. I hope he maintains his resilient enthusiasm and hope his spirit doesn’t become another casualty of the flawed, unjust system.