Monday, February 20, 2017

Worlds Collide

A number of years ago, when I was an assistant principal, I vividly remember spending about an hour talking with one of our 18 year old students.  He grew up in the inner city, but through a variety of circumstances, had been attending an affluent, mostly white suburban high school for the last few years.  He had been in a lot of trouble at school, but he was scheduled to graduate that year. That week, his teachers had been particularly aggravated with him because he didn't show up for the ACT that they had helped him register for.  He ended up in my office on this day because he and his teacher "got into it."  When I asked him about not showing up for the ACT, he finally admitted that he didn't want to go to college.  Eventually, he admitted that he was scared to go to college.  (Keep in mind that no one in his family had ever gone to college or maybe even graduated from high school.)  I explained that his education, and the help of his teachers, were allowing for him to have a different life. He responded that he didn't want a different life.  In so many words, he indicated that he would never feel comfortable in my middle class world.  He said, 

"Dr. Steele, I'll tell you the truth ... If I became the richest man in the world right now, I'd build a big house right in the middle of the hood ... because that's where I'm comfortable." 

I was reminded that none of his teachers could imagine what it was like to be in his shoes ... and he was scared to death to walk a mile in my "middle class" shoes.  I told him that anything is possible, and that my hope was that he choose a path that he really wanted, and that his decisions would not be based on fear.  We hugged, and we both cried.  That probably wasn't professional.

But I didn't care.


  1. The "professionalism" attached to being a teacher/school leader is different than the "professionalism" that other careers identify with. That young man needed your hug at that time, and this, in my opinion, is what those that constantly try to apply a business model to our profession just don't get. Teaching is an art and you were practicing your "art" at the highest level with this boy. Kudos to you.

  2. Exactly what that 18 year old needed. He was begging for your acceptance of his need to feel capable of such a "daunting task "

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