Dec 21, 2011 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Samadee became a school teacher quite by accident. With the opportunity that attracted him to town eliminated the day before he arrived from New York City, he took the advice of a friend and walked unannounced into the office at Madison, a junior high school on the periphery of the SU campus serving the then geographically contiguous local community of color. Word on the street, the friend told him, was that the school was having a hard time keeping its teachers, and indeed an obviously harried teacher was taking an abrupt leave from the building as he entered the office to enquire about employment.
The school was the focus of a Ford Foundation project intended to prepare its students for racial integration of the city schools anticipated three years hence. The project coordinator, a turtle-necked jazz musician who wore sunglasses and lounged for the interview with his feet on his desk, sensed a Big Apple bond with Samadee, and suggested he hang for the day in the classroom abandoned by the harried departee.
“See how it slides,” he drawled in hipsterese.
Where do you want it?
Samadee survived that first day at Madison, moving with a streetwalk rhythm from across 110th Street, dropping frequent r n’ b cultural references and sharing slightly exaggerated stories from a checkered D-I basketball career. He learned instantly that continued survival in that classroom would depend on performance combining both prepared and spontaneous one-liners competitive with current late night television talk show hosts, never sitting down and never turning his back on the audience.
That first day a preacher’s daughter propositioned Samadee, and Ray, who could easily have passed for an SU linebacker, asked if he wanted his butt kicked there in the classroom, out in the hall or after school in the street. The second day’s curious calm gave Samadee indication that he had passed the first in a series of tests toward establishing trust with the students.
Living in the neighborhood
Provisionally hired, Samadee took an apartment two doors up the street from the school. The district’s supervisor of English, who had blue hair and wore white gloves when she came to Madison to observe his classroom demeanor, said that while she admired his idealism, he should really be aspiring to teach in a “good” school. But Samadee knew he was where he was needed. Living in the neighborhood he didn’t need to make home visits. He encountered students’ parents for more relaxed consultations at the laundromat, in the supermarket on East Adams Street or sitting for an evening on his front porch.
As participant in a Ford Foundation project, Samadee was apprised, through a series of in-service training workshops, of the latest in research relevant to “compensatory education” for students defined as “culturally deprived.” The greatest lesson to be learned, he found, was that students behave in direct proportion to the expectations they perceive. One case study reported individualized instruction for a class based on each student’s IQ score. A semester’s monitoring showed, with only slight variance, the premise to be correct. At the beginning of the next semester, however, it was discovered the list was not of IQ scores, but rather of the students’ locker numbers.
Beyond the first 100 days
Last week the city school district’s new superintendent Sharon Contreras made public the findings of her first 100 days in office. Without reservation she noted significant problems with curriculum, training, planning, organizational structure and teacher recruitment. She prefaced her assessment with a personal goal of making the school district the most improved in America. She knows well the first step toward that goal is the development of expectations that city school students can achieve at that level.