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Dispatch from an American Classroom: I Wasn't Prepared for Pregnant 12 Year-Olds

I thought I was prepared. I knew the population was very much at-risk. I had no idea.

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Some children are needy - of attention, of affirmation.

Many do not know how to draw limits, so they push the boundaries, regularly.  

This requires great patience. I will go pretty far before I come down and say no more.  This can be exhausting, because it is important that I always stay calm.

For now I have a man who is regularly in the school who knows the kids as an assistant.  This enables me to focus on the academics and not have to constantly address inappropriate or even deliberately disruptive behavior, of which there is at this point far too much.

I know I am starting to reach a few kids.  I have pulled some aside to talk with them and begun to get a response.  Some are starting to show some interest by the questions they ask.  

The other teachers on the team are telling me what the kids are saying, which they view as positive.

I am the only white teacher in the Middle School.  The head counselor is a white woman who is as sharp as a tack.  The principal is a vibrant African-American man with long dreadlocks.  People work at the school by choice because they are committed to making a difference in the lives of these children.

Yesterday i dropped my spouse off at her place of employment on Capitol Hill.  I drove for about 10 minutes, including being stopped at lights.  I was still in the District of Columbia, less than 5 miles as the crow flies from the Nation's Capitol Building.  But I was in a world that most of those who represent us there cannot conceive.

At the end of the school day I am close to exhausted, but still have more work to do.  I am still learning the culture of the school.  I have to adapt because having a consistent structure is critical for many of these children.  Yet what I bring is high expectations for all of them, a determination to challenge them yet assist them in learning and moving forward.

On the first day the students filled out an information sheet, some very reluctantly.  Many claimed not to know home phone numbers - it could be they don't have a home phone, or that they have been taught not to divulge information to anyone.  I asked them to share some of their aspirations - what they would like to be when they grow up, where they might want to attend college, what they like to do outside of school.  I gave them a chance to ask me questions.  Yesterday in each class I took about 10 minutes to go over what they had written, answering questions, or perhaps talking about their aspirations.  For some of the boys it helps connect when I can talk about former students who are in the NBA or the NFL.  For the young man who wants to be an FBI agent I can share about our brother-in-law who is a Supervisory Special Agent.  They are curious about why I came to the school.  When I told one class that after I had agreed to finish the year at the school I received some inquiries about political or governmental work that would pay substantially more a couple of kids have trouble grasping that I would turn down more money, but when I explained that there were things more important than money, that I was there because they deserved an education, I saw some signs of recognition on at last a few faces.

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