When Middle Class Teachers Happen to Raised Poor Students

By | July 22, 2018

When those of us who identify as Middle Class are attempting to instruct those who aren’t, we are easily seduced by the knowledge that we have experiences and world understanding that they may never have.

It becomes heady knowing that you are the one with the information that will change the lives of your young people.

On more than one occasion, I have been in the position to instruct, lord over and dismiss someone because of what I thought I knew or understood about the world and the perceived access to resources.

It is a challenge to have knowledge and not punish or torture others as a result.

When you add race, gender and life experience you often end up with confusion, upset and in many cases tears.

Pobrecito“- (poor little ones) culture requires Middle Class instructors to lower expectations, endure inappropriate and ridiculous behavior and feel that “they (students of color and raised poor individuals) don’t get it.

Our “it” is often an attempt to help.

When teachers are not vigilant and clear about our intentions, we run the risk of forcing our ways of life onto young minds with the belief that what we have to offer will magically deliciously improve their lives.

It never works that way.

Offering to help before someone asks is presumptuous, Classist and in many cases, racist as hell.

One of the best things teachers of one class who teach those from a different class can do is to admit their own ignorance and be ok with it.

So many days have been spent with my youngsters talking to me (via their less than desirable behavior) in languages and in ways that I know nothing about.

If you’re showing me via an attitude and body language that you are not interested in what’s being taught and my perception is that you are being an asshole-just because- I might take things personally which could prevent us from connecting and moving through conflict.

It amazes me when young folks choose domination as a life philosophy and yet struggle when this type of interaction does not provide them with immediate and ongoing life success.

A culture of domination says that everything must happen immediately.

That the only planning required is what you can take or get.

For example, I have some students who are always crying broke when it is time to do anything that would move them towards success.

And yet, when something is easy, fun and predictable -smoking weed, sleeping to noon, going to Disneyland, there is always money in the budget.

As a middle class teacher who understands the limitations and significance of planning, it is up to me to convey the importance of not only an A- game plan but a B,C and D.

While many people, myself included will say back up plans cause us to stay safe knowing that if things don’t work out we can always do something else, it is imperative that we make friends with planning and life choices.

Because we have raised a bunch of sensitive, entitled, can’t-call-them-on-their- shit babies, we are never allowed to say: You screwed up; now let’s get to work cleaning it up.

Why we (as a culture) remain afraid to demand excellence, accountability and some serious decision making is just beyond me.

My loved ones and friends have always been quick and in some instances too eager to point out my shortcomings and fuck ups.

This didn’t make me melt into the floor nor immobilize me especially as I got older and came out of the closet.

Instead, I listened intensely to older friends and colleagues then tried on their advice and insight.

When people are agreeing to be spectacular, there is no room for confusion and or chaos.

Recently it was pointed out that I set up a young person for failure by sending her to people that would hire her provided that she could pass a drug test.

She couldn’t pass the test and was not offered the position.

While this ridiculous conversation kept me up most of the night while I wrestled with misplaced accountability,it did give me an opportunity to look at my MC upbringing and how the choices we all make either move us forward or backward.

After being told that some of these folks would probably never be clean, it was time to make a decision.

Lower expectations and support my folks in staying poor or challenge them to leave the smoke alone and actually get a job that will allow them to be economically self sufficient?

I walked away feeling frustrated not because I felt unheard but because my kids do all kinds of stupid non-thinking things that complicate their lives and keep them stuck in suffering and financial ruin and uncertainty.

I’ve yet to figure out how to handle a lack of emotional control.

Recently, one of my most problematic and vocal opponents to everything that I offer thought it was a good idea to scream and yell and upset my class to avoid a new set of uncomfortable demands that required our class to think and behave differently.

Luckily, I understood the upset and registered it as: Oh My God- I’m gonna have to show up and not fuck up.

Somebody has expectations of me and my usual bullshit won’t work.

We (educators) have to master the art of compassionate urgency. An understanding that many of us (educators of color as well) have never been taught to recognize and pursue resources. As a result, we often fight and resist what would provide us with options for change and personal transformation.

Many MC teachers instruct from our own limited understanding of other folks reality and then wonder why we are not effective and why they don’t get it.

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