Five years ago, I left a corporate job to go back to teaching. I missed the kids more than I wanted the money.
I was asked to teach the 4th quarter with sixth graders in a low socio-economic school. Their previous teacher abandoned the post. He never said goodbye, he just left. Of the 30 students I taught, more than half had fathers in prison. Every child qualified for free breakfast and lunch. One of the male students had very strange eyebrows. Someone told me that his older brother and a gang tied him down and shaved his eyebrows off. They never grew back quite right.
As I got to know the children, I realized most had been traumatized in a number of ways: neglect, verbal and physical abuse and (I suspected) sexual abuse. One of my students was a sweet, round-faced boy. He wore the same pants every day and they looked dirty, but he was always kind. He was always smiling and he walked and talked slowly. I’ll call him Francisco.
One of the teachers had over 12 years experience at the school. She was extremely strict with all of the kids. I know she cared about them and wanted them to be successful, but she acted as if each child had a bull’s eye on their back. She was constantly barking orders and yelling.
We were outside, lined up to go back inside from lunch. Francisco walked slowly to line. Apparently, too slowly. This teacher yelled at him, “Who do you think you are? What are you trying to prove? Too cool to care?” We all stood, stunned. “When you walk, walk with purpose and walk fast! And tuck your shirt in!”
I wanted to explain that this was the way he always walked.
I wanted to come to his defense and vouch for his character.
I wanted to stop her from attacking him wrongfully.
But I didn’t. I froze.
It haunts me to this day. I should have stood up for him.
But he was Mexican-American. She was Mexican-American. I am Korean-American, an outsider, only to be there for 9 weeks.
This was their school, not mine.
I see now, I was wrong. It was our school. Right is right and wrong is wrong.
Never just stand by silently. Speak your mind when you see a wrong.
Otherwise, you’re participating in the injustice.