Sunday, February 26, 2006

Loyalty and Authority, Part I

Loyalty is a funny thing with my students. I'm not sure I totally understand the psychology of it, but I have a working theory based on my experiences.

When I first came to this school, I came in January. That class had been through 6 teachers that year - a teacher who basically had a nervous breakdown (panic attacks when he saw the school) and 5 substitutes. These kids were not about to believe that I was staying, and neither were their parents. It took about 3 years of the parents being mostly polite but distant, and the kids asking me when I was leaving before I noticed a shift. (Incidentally, the kids weren't asking when I was leaving because they wanted me to leave; it was more of an understanding that teachers came and went all the time - especially young idealistic white teachers - and they were simply wondering what the duration of my stay would be.

After a few years, I noticed that the parents (and by parents, I mostly mean mothers and grandmothers, but that's the topic for another post) were generally more friendly with me, started having conversations with me about all kinds of things, brought me food, asked me about my life, and just generally related to me more as if I was a peer and not entirely as if I was an educated privileged white teacher trying to "save" inner-city youth. It appeared to me - and I think this is right, but need to process it some more - that they had realized that I was not there so much because of educational ideals or a debt to society or anything else that wouldn't last, but quite simply because I love their children. Idealism will be squashed in this job, and people leave, but when you love a particular group of children dearly, it's much harder to walk away.

The interesting part about being accepted more into the community this is the authority I have with them and the loyalty they have toward me. I gave the example of the kid who told another adult (I still don't know who) "Don't nobody talk that way about my teacher!" I have seen kids who have no problem at all disrespecting adults, destroying school property, etc., reprimanding other students because those students dared disrespect me, and somehow that's different. They also back me up: "Oh, you better get in your seat, cause you know she ain't playing - she will call your mama..." "Girl, you know you don't talk to teacher that way!" The best: "You know she cares about you even when she mad and she only upset cause she wants you to get your education."

This gives me an incredible amount of authority - sometimes (although not always), I don't have to say anything, but can just give "the look" or count to three, or hold out my hand for whatever they aren't supposed to have, and the child will (reluctantly) do what he or she is supposed to. It's fascinating to me because I have zero street cred - I'm a white woman from the suburbs - except that I've stuck it out in that community. And somehow that makes all the difference.


Maya said...

Wow. I'm sure it feels nice when there's someone who is willing to back up for you. Especially a small kid. :)

jessamynit said...

that does sound nice!

did I ever tell you that, before I came to visit your class, I envisioned you being this angelic, soft spoken, nice teacher with unlimited patience for these kids who look up to you... then I got there and realized that there's no way you could do ANYTHING there without some yelling, discipline, bossing, and, well, more yelling.

I was like, ahHA, it IS my big sister! : )

good thing you found something to put that bossiness to good use...

well, okay, and love and patience and compassion too...