I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared to face my first class in 1990. Part of my apprehension must have been due to the interview process. I was not the master of the job interview, and I had been on a few with no job offers. When I met Principal Higgins, I was more than a little nervous. My first impression told me that this man was like Joe Clark, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the uplifting movie, Lean on Me. In the interview, Mr. Higgins asked be the unusual question, "What kind of car do you drive?" When I described my 1984 Ford Tempo, he said that was good "because they like to steal Chryslers from the playground (Yes, we parked on the playground, and they locked the chain link fence during the school day.). I really believe my car got me the first job in my professional career.
During the week before school was to begin, teachers were called in for training. That's nothing new, but the subject matter of the training was more of a shock to this rookie. It was not facilitated by some educational guru or even by a principal or teacher leader; it was led by the Oklahoma City Police Department. There I was, hoping to teach children, and learning instead about gang hand signals, tagging, Satanist and gang symbolism, drug deals, and how to take a gun away from someone. This did nothing to squelch my apprehension! To top it all, Mr. Higgins expected me to teach students from cultures quite different from any I had experienced.
If I could say nothing else about my school, I could say it had character. We didn't need the radiators since it was over 100 degrees. The box fans in the windows drowned out most of my teaching, and our endless sweating drowned out any attempt to focus. Nevertheless, I pressed on.
I had a good friend at the time who was in the Air Force. He was going to Iraq in the war effort after the Iraqi military invaded Kuwait. I asked my students to write letters to him, and we soon earned the attention of the local media.
I can't even imagine the teachers who came before me, the lessons that were taught in that second floor classroom. The teachers didn't look like me. They didn't use the same methods. They read from different textbooks. They adhered to oppressive laws.
The water fountains were not for "Negroes", and the restroom weren't labeled for "Colored Only"; the fact is the whole school was labeled as such. To think I was working, daily, in such a place - surrounded by such a history - really is unbelievable.
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