Thursday, March 15, 2007

Et Tu, Raoul?

It's well documented that I hate my job (my teaching job-- I still enjoy my waitering job). I'm not sure, a lot of days, if I can make it to the end of the school year.

I teach at an "alternative" high school. It's the last-chance high school, filled with young adults (17-21 years old) who have dropped out of schools, been kicked out of schools, or been told by a judge that they can avoid jail time by enrolling in high school and getting their diploma. We're contracted out to the Chicago Public School system-- a "charter school."

It's pretty damned frustrating. Sometimes I read JR's blog just to remind myself that it could be worse-- JR teaches high school in a Michigan prison, and somehow amidst working with murderers, robbers, prison system bureaucrats and other sociopaths, retains his wit and perspective. But a lot of days, I just dread coming in. I'd planned for this to be temporary-- I'd expected to make it to the summer, where I can go back to school and start working on other plans.

Once in a while, though, I'm reminded that we're actually doing something that might make a bit of difference for a few young people here. I wrote about this a bit-- something that I took for granted, graduating high school, is a huge hurdle for a lot of kids, and even if we got only a few of them moving forward in life, that's something.

There's one guy I take the time to talk to and encourage. His name is Raoul. He's 20 or 21, and has never attended high school regularly. He's a husband and father-- one kid and one on the way. By his own admission, his priorities weren't smart when he was younger. Maybe it was becoming a father, but something clicked with him-- he gets it. He comes in, gets his work done, and is cooperative and friendly. He helps the custodian do repair work at the school. In addition to full-time attendance here, Raoul goes to night school to get more credits. He wants his high school diploma.

He's in my 2nd period Biology class, at 9:20. Today, I took 5 minutes or so to go over the assignment with the class, and set them to work. I'd forgotten to write the date on the board, and someone asked the date. I told them "March 15--" and added "Beware the Ides of March!"

I saw Raoul's eyes light up with recognition-- that "I've heard that before" look. I sensed a "teachable moment." I told him that it was from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and told him how Caesar had returned to Rome a conquering hero, and become emperor, but the Roman Senate feared his power.

"Yes, I learned about that in Mr. Tobin's class!" (World History), he said, excitedly.

"So the Senate decides they've got to kill Caesar, and for that to work, his best friend Brutus has got to join in. After all the other Senators have stabbed him, Caesar looks to Brutus"

"And then he stabbed him too! And then he said something...," Raoul added.

"Et tu, Brute? You too, Brutus?"

As maddening as my job can be, there are little flashes of light. We took a young man with an uncertain future in and taught him a little history and a little Shakespeare, and even a little Biology. Raoul, I'm certain, will eventually get his high school diploma. Having a high school diploma will be his ticket out of poverty. We'll help give him that diploma. And in return, he'll give us a little hope.


Chris said...

Thanks for another heartwarming tale, Johnny! Nice!

Skylers Dad said...

Awesome post, that was wonderful!

Anon. Blogger said...

At schools, well, in general life, it is a shame that so much attention, time and energy seems to get directed to the a-holes of the world. When in fact there are people around us, not getting that time, attention and energy that are the the ones that richly deserve it.

Great post. Making a real difference in someone's life must be very rewarding.

Bats in the Belfry said...

Are you talking about the same Raul, though as friendly and nice as he is, has only made it to my 7th period since this semester started, twice?

deadspot said...

One of my freelancers stopped by my office to drop off a paper today. She told me to beware the Ides of March when she came in. I told her to stay away from the Senate when she left.

lulu said...

Thanks Johnny.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Moments like that make it all worth it somehow, don't they? I wish Raoul well, and I wish you well in moving on to something less frustrating.

Bubs said...

Good job Johnny. That uplifting story and a cup of strong coffee was just the right combination this morning.

Johnny Yen said...

Chris and Skyler's Dad-
Thanks. Seriously, sometimes seeing the guy is all that gets me through a day here.

Anon. Blogger-
I completely agree. As a teacher and a parent I try to make sure to praise more than I scold. Especially with my students, I realize that whatever praise I give may be the only kind word they get in a day.

And yes, it can be very rewarding.

I'd cut 7th period everyday too, if I could get away with it.

Maybe we should be giving our current Senate some ideas, and W an invitation there.

You're welcome!

They sure do.

Coming from a guy who's probably got a more frustrating job than I do, that means a lot.

Natalie said...

It's those little moments that make all the difference. I can't wait to be where you are, although I probably will hate it eventually too. It's sad how big a deal 8th grade graduation has become in some communities. The sad thing is they esentially know that it may be the only graduation they ever reach. Those who were not ordered to go back to school and choose to on their own really can be quite motivated.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Look at it this way - your job has the potential to totally and utterly suck, or to change someone's life for the better.

My job has neither.