re-posted from An Urban Teacher's Education:
I'm lucky. I've known practically all of my life that I wanted to be a teacher. There was never any indecision about it for me. When I was in the second grade I would take extra worksheets home, give them to my brother to do, and then practice grading them. In fourth grade I had my mom buy me white boards and dry erase markers so I could lecture neighborhood kids on the American Civil War, give them quizzes, and then make them try again when they got answers wrong. When I was in elementary school I wanted to teach elementary school. When I was in middle school, it was going to be middle school - and so on...all the way through college.
I think my desire to teach (up until my junior year in college) was mostly about sharing knowledge, working with people, and I liked the idea of being organized and running my own classroom. It wasn't until 2003 or 2004 that the promise of becoming a teacher took on new importance. I remember finding a flyer in my dorm requesting college students as tutors at a nearby high school. It seemed like a good fit as I was a few years away from entering a masters program in education, and I thought it would provide me some real experience to help ensure that teaching was really for me. The students, however, were not the same students I hung out with when I was in high school. East Knoxville was (and is) not exactly what one might call affluent. It caught me off guard when I found out a majority of students rarely bothered with homework or that many of them were reading on a third-grade level (and some were almost entirely illiterate). It caught most of my college friends off guard too.
It wasn't long after my experience with tutoring at Fulton High School that my coursework began to introduce me to many of the disparaging realities involved with public education. It was a public policy course and an education course that introduced me to Jonathan Kozol and San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez. It only sank in that the vast majority of students in inner-city students across the country were black and hispanic when I was 21, and I remember being blown away. I guess I had seen Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver, but the statistics really didn't make an impact on me until I began to study them in an academic context.
"99% of students in the District of Columbia are black? That's not the way it was at my high school. Even the high school I tutor at is more diverse. Where did all the white kids go?"
I began to study education more and quickly learned about the catastrophically inequitable funding structures in place across the country. I was largely convinced that this was the problem with education. If a kid in one part of Houston has $3,000 spent on her education and a kid in another part gets $11,000, that's got to be the problem. I learned the most inexperienced teachers often ended up at the toughest schools and that they were paid the least.
I was outraged, and I told anybody who would listen about the problem. Teaching took on new meaning for me. No longer did I want the job of my high school world history teacher (teach world history and coach soccer - seemed like a good life), I wanted to do something about the problems in public education. So I urged my faculty advisors to place me at Fulton or Austin East for my master's internship, the two most underprivileged schools in Knoxville. It wasn't a hard sell; everyone else wanted to intern at Farragut or West (schools in West Knoxville that routinely send their valedictorians to Harvard or Yale - Fulton's valedictorian usually makes it into UT). I was placed at Fulton, and my friends asked me why I would want to work at a school where none of the students cared and where guns and knives were sometimes brandished at football games (and even during the school day). My advisor told me I was brave and that if could teach at Fulton I could teach anywhere. I, on the other hand, thought of my commitment as honorable. I was proud of my choice and wanted to prove to myself and others that I could not only do it, but that I could do it well. I was a moron.
Next: Reality kicks our hero in the backside.