When there are bars on the windows: Why I am in Education

Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book, In Defense of Learning.  It is a brief look at why I first entered the education field:

The first school I ever worked in had bars on the windows. I was a mentor in an all girls’ high school in Inglewood, California as part of a college internship. I went to an all girls’ prep school for my high school.  My school had state of the art facilities, large lawns, lots of trees and open spaces.  A large iron fence surrounded the school in which I mentored.  There were no open areas, trees or grass; there was lots of concrete.  And, yes, I was nervous when I drove into the school each Friday morning.  I wondered if the bars were to keep the neighborhood out or to keep the students in.  The four girls I met with over the course of a semester were facing problems way beyond bars on the windows of their schools. They had to work after school and to take care of little brothers and sisters and avoid gangs.  School, well, it just was irrelevant in their lives. The requirement for being assigned to me was that they had to have lower than a 2.0 grade point average.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I had very little I could offer them except to listen. I had no control over the school culture or curriculum. In fact, I was completely unaware of any particular school happenings or requirements, because my only interaction in the school was with those four girls. So, I went each week to the school surrounded by bars.  I met with whichever girls were in the school each day, which was more often than not just two of them.  The girls and I talked about strategies for homework and tests.  Part of my role was to help them stay on track with their schoolwork.  I had no training or idea how to do this.  Each week at the beginning of the session we would talk about what they did for the week and what was coming up in their academic life.  More often than not, we, or I should say they, talked about their lives outside of school, because that's what they wanted to talk about.  Jennifer needed someone to hear that she had been scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins until 9pm before they were able to get home to study for their test.  Allison wanted to share her joy at teaching her little brother to swing.  Her mother worked afternoons and evenings, so she was “mom” to her five younger siblings.  These girls were responsible.  They had little to no support for their academic life.  I felt helpless to change their course.

It was that experience, my junior year of college, that launched me firmly into the field of education.



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