This blog post was co-written by Becca from Science Rocks and Tara from Science In The City. They have 22 combined years of teaching experience in the inner city. To read about their backgrounds, hop down to the bottom of the blog post.
10 TIPS FOR TEACHING IN THE INNER-CITY
I started teaching 10 years ago and honestly didn’t give much thought to what type of school I wanted to end up at. After graduating (with student loan debt looming) all I cared about was getting a job. I completed my student teaching in the fall semester and wasn’t hopeful I would find a job mid-way through the school year. I started googling schools in my area and found out a middle school not too far from my apartment had a science position open.
It turns out the particular school that hired me had the highest poverty rates in the entire county. Many of the families were living in shelters or staying in cheap motels. We would send food home with the students on Fridays or many wouldn’t have anything to eat over the weekend. It was heartbreaking and also the most fulfilling job I could have asked for. I fell in love with the students and quickly learned teaching strategies that worked for me and my classroom. I remember my first month teaching I had colleagues mention to me “You need to be mean or they will walk all over you.” It turns out that what those students really needed was quite the opposite. They needed a mentor. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be understood. They needed to feel like my classroom was a safe place for them.
I’ve since moved from middle school to high school but am still teaching in a title 1 district and don’t see that ever changing. Each school and demographic has their own battles and struggles to overcome, and I choose to put my efforts towards helping kids in low income areas. Am I going to get Starbucks gift cards for Christmas or teacher appreciation week? Nope. But I’m getting something far better. I’m building relationships with kids whom many had given up on. I get to help kids be first generation college students. I get to learn and teach humility and empathy on a daily basis. I get to truly make an impact on their lives.
I started teaching 12 years ago, and ended up in an urban district. My education program had a big focus on urban education and social justice, but it wasn’t a particular goal of mine to teach in an urban district. However, I student taught in the city (as well as a neighboring suburban district) and it just happened that my urban cooperating teacher was retiring and negotiated with her principal for me to get hired into her position. I was pregnant (not very marketable), but she worked it out so that I was able to co-teach summer school with her, and she would be the sub for my maternity leave in the fall. I had a good experience student teaching with her, and it was too good of an offer to turn down!
Thus started my urban teaching career! I have now taught for 12 years in one of the poorest, lowest achieving districts in the state. I stayed at that particular school for 5 years, teaching Earth Science and Environmental Science. Then I transferred to a different school and taught middle school science for 2 years. Then as that school was closed down by the state, I moved schools yet again in the same district and taught 2 years of 9th grade Biology. During my last 3 years I have been working in a program throughout the district for students who are behind on credits and are taking classes online that they have previously failed for “credit recovery.” Students are scheduled into a computer lab with other students who are taking virtual courses (but maybe not the same ones). Different subject teachers rotate between the different schools to meet with their particular students, but also to monitor the computer lab and help students (of any subject area). Each of these settings has been a new learning experience for me, as a teacher.
I grew up in the same area where I live, but in the suburbs, rather than the city. The urban environment was foreign, despite being only a few miles away. I struggled at first with what it would take to be successful in that environment, but learned quickly. I am fairly small, and can be soft-spoken. I often experienced disbelief from people that I could teach, or would want to teach, in that environment. However, I don’t believe successful urban teaching is about intimidation or being ‘mean.’ For me it has been about building relationships, and seeing success for students who don’t have a lot of other sources of support, or models in their lives. For many students, knowing that someone cares, believes in them, doesn’t give up on them, and someone pushes them to do their best goes a long way. Many students come from families where no one has graduated from high school before, parents don’t speak English, and they may not have a stable place to sleep at night. Yet they generally want to be successfully at school, and to graduate, despite having so many strikes against them. I am proud to be able to be a small piece of that!