I was a substitute teacher for the Milwaukee Public Schools during much of the 1999-2000 school year, and I was a student within the school system from K-4 through grade 12. My personal experiences from the time I was four until just last year would actually all count as human relations hours, according to the specifications. These hours have added up to over 16,000 clock hours working with students who are both minority and economically deprived. However, while interacting with those students, I was more often than not a part of the minority group in the school. Since I can only count 25 hours out of the 16,000, I chose three separate days in which I substitute taught at my own high school, John Marshall.
My first experience at Marshall came in late December of ’99, after I had already been subbing for over two months. I filled in for a Spanish teacher, Srta. Storer. The students were not unlike many of which I had come across at many of the other schools. They wanted to test what a substitute would allow, and was forced to make compromises in order to obtain appropriate behavior. Of course, I was expected to maintain some order and get through the lesson, which was often achieved by promising the viewing of a video for the last minutes of class. I also had a lunch duty, and I helped a teacher with a disability (paraplegic) in her classroom for an hour.
Asking me to analyze what I learned about the groups listed in C1 is almost like asking me what I learned about myself, and the wording seems so anthropological. I met some kids just like the kids I used to attend school with, but a power shift had occurred. Instead of me being the minority “white boy”, I had become the authority figure. I’m not sure if they respected me more or less because I was older and in charge. I learned that black kids are still black kids—not much different from me. I attended school with a few American Indians and about a dozen Hispanic-Americans, but I honestly don’t remember which days and in which classes I taught these students when I was subbing. I honestly find this part of the assignment very difficult because I cannot step back far enough from the minorities that I worked with in order to force a “them” onto the situation. I remember the black guys wanting to play beats on the desk (along with a few white guys). In the middle schools, I did have a sense that the boys looked up to me and craved my attention, which I could attribute to the high percentage of single-mother households in the city. When I was at Marshall, well over half of the kids received free or reduced lunch, and the numbers have not gone down. Once again, however, I grew up in a school with similar numbers of kids receiving free or reduced lunch, so I honestly didn’t notice too much about the kids. Sure, some kids were dressed a lot better than others, but I assume that sort of thing happens out in the suburbs, too.
I’ve also never thought too hard about how I can apply what I “suddenly” learned about minorities into my classroom. I did find out that black kids still call themselves black, and don’t exactly expect or even want us whites to go out of our way to make them into African-Americans. I know Jose was “Puerto Rican,” even though he was an American of Hispanic descent, and there’s no chance anyone ever called Drew, Odell, Marcia, or Andrea Native Americans, especially when we knew their tribes. I guess as a group or as an individual, minorities expect the same respect we give each other, which is as specific as possible (usually a first name). I certainly was reminded of the fairly creative naming practices in the black community, and the frustration shown by the students who expect a sub to figure it out on the first try.To read more, a subscription is needed: Click here to subscribe