Did you ever see the movie “Dangerous Minds”? In the story, an ex-Marine, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, comes to teach English to inner city high schoolers. Her students are tough. And they can’t read or write well. So out goes the curriculum and in comes a teacher willing to dedicate her life to giving essential skills to underserved minority students. Naturally, the villain in the story is the principal, the administration trying to force the rigid rules on students who have no concept of polite society. The teacher perseveres, though, and, in the end, touches the hearts of those hard-hearted inner city kids.
What a beautiful fairy tale. Like all fairy tales, though, this one is an out-and-out lie. Not because there are no teachers willing to dedicate their lives to that level. Quite the contrary. Dedicated teachers live and breathe their job. Even when they are spending time with the family, they are thinking of how to reach that silent kid in the corner. They spend their TV-time with a stack of papers to grade. They examine their innermost fears in order to find ways to become a more effective teacher. Oh, no, there are teachers like Pfeiffer’s character who are perfectly willing to look at a class full of young toughs and vow to work past their fragile exteriors to the damaged child inside. Even if it takes 25 hours a day.
One such teacher had given her heart and soul to her students at a privileged charter school only to be out-maneuvered by a conniving principal. No kidding, that woman smiled like a shark. She thought she was done with education. Then she decided to apply to the New America School.
The New America School is not an inner city school. The New America School takes the kids who wash out of the inner city schools. These kids have heartbreaking stories. Anger issues because they witnessed a parent’s murder. Attention issues because certain family members disappeared in Mexico because of the drug cartels, and there are other family members in danger. Students who have shot and been shot. Oh-so-young mothers. Refugees.
That teacher earned two other job offers from local schools. She was a twelve-year veteran. Not that she would be paid as such: teachers changing districts enter at year-seven wages at best. However, she had achieved success with her students, and she loved teaching. It was a family vocation: father, sister, three aunts and an uncle.
She interviewed at the New America School, Lowry campus. When she heard the stories and heard what support she could expect if hired, she was excited. She waited anxiously by the phone and checked her email constantly. Finally, the big phone call came. They offered her less money, but she was ready to do good work. She accepted the position and immediately called the other two schools to explain she would not take either contract. She was as excited as a new teacher – but with the wisdom of one well-seasoned.
What would this school, that would challenge her experience and skills, allow her to accomplish?
Part one in a four-article series.