I am in awe of how little I actually exaggerate in these stories. I tend to edit for continuity, so I will, for example, put two different events on the same day, and say they happened to just one teacher. I’ll change a name and such for the sake of anonymity. But, in truth, I invent nothing. And I stand in awe of that fact.
I’m really glad to have the opportunity to do this. How many times, over the years, has someone said, “God, someone just has to publish this!”? I think inner city teachers feel isolated. Everyone thinks he or she knows something about teaching because everyone has been to school. But I have to admit that even I, a teacher for at the time twenty-five years, had little clarity about the life of teachers fifteen minutes from my home until, ten years ago, I went to work in the city. As just one example —
Being the only black person in a room full of white people is a fairly common experience for black folks. Being the only white person in a room full of blacks is an extraordinary experience for a white person. Except, of course, if you’re an inner city teacher. In which case, it’s just called work.
Over the years, I’ve developed a number of defenses for the moment when a kid says, “Hey, man, this is slavery conditions. I mean, look at this. What does this remind you of? A white guy giving orders to a bunch of black folks!” To which I reply, ‘I don’t believe in slavery, but let me explain to you indentured servitude. It’s the difference between having your butt forever, and having your butt till June.’
Well, my kids are doing a final, and I’ve got to act mean for a minute.