Police sirens and metal detectors. Out of date equipment and an even older building. These are the things I associate with an urban school environment. Most of my beliefs are based on information seen in the media and entertainment, places where drama and tragedy equals ratings and money. Subsequently, many of my beliefs of urban life are negative.
I was born and raised in a calm, suburban town in the middle of New Jersey. As a child growing up, I was unaware of the diverse conditions by which people could live. When I think of an urban school, I see an overcrowded facility with inadequate support due to the dense population of a city. This makes it extremely difficult for teachers to control the class and give each student the attention they deserve.
My biggest fear of working in an inner city school, one I hope is an overgeneralization, is the danger of violence. Everyday, the media reports on gang violence in urban schools. Students injured or killed, teachers harassed. It is not only the students that scare me but their world outside of school. Some of the most dangerous areas in the country are in the hearts of cities, and like the rest of America, there are kids trying to grow and learn there. Not only does their environment set a terrible example, but it also causes children to live in fear. This is also a concern for the adults who choose to teach these children. A person who would risk their life to teach children in need is an amazing teacher. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of these people in the world. The rest of the inner city teachers are not there to enlighten their students. They may have a desire to gain more experience or just to receive a paycheck, but it is certainly seems hard to put oneself in that environment day in and day out.
The students, like anyone else their age, are present-minded. But in addition to worrying about assignments and grades, they must focus on all their life troubles outside of school walls. It seems that many urban students are discouraged from success because they don’t believe they have the ability to reach that level. Most of their parents work multiple jobs just to get by and have no college education. This can either inspire a student to achieve greater things or suppress their drive which causes them to settle for less. Because of this family strife, many students are forced to work too many hours in order to help their family survive. Survival is not a given in the inner city life. Everyone has to work hard and do what they can to help put food on the table. This need sometimes leads to unfavorable decisions when people circumvent the law through crime and drugs in order to provide more for their families. I feel that the drug world is responsible for the majority of violence in the inner city. People sell it because it makes money and people buy it to escape their harsh reality. When there is dependency on drugs, either to sell or buy, strong emotions override logic, which makes it dangerous for not only those involved, but the entire community.
My beliefs of the inner city stem from a combination of fiction, over-dramatization, and negative focus. Television and movies are the places where I get the majority of my ideas of the inner city. Because these mediums are used to evoke emotion, their content is always trying to lead you in a certain direction. Media coverage is another skewed form of information. Everything you read in the paper and watch on the news is negative: a boy was shot, a teacher was stabbed, a student was assaulted. While these things do happen more frequently in an urban environment, they are not only things. The media never reports on the positive aspects of inner city life and therefore the picture they paint is an unreal, negative one.
From all these sources, I have formed many negative assumptions which are purely fear-based. While many of them may be true, I have yet to understand the full spectrum of life in the inner city. When I first enter an inner city school, I am sure I will be tentative. The one thing that really unnerves me in life is the unknown. By focusing on the negative aspects of the environment, I may be withdrawn at first. Fear and paranoia would be my main problems when beginning in an inner city school. The potential for violence is so much greater that I would be looking over my shoulder all day.
Of course, I am most likely dreading the worst. I tend to worry about things, but when I actually experience them, I am able to take on whatever challenges may come. Although there are many more challenges in inner city schools, I’m sure it is not quite as terrible as the media portrays it. The community consists of normal people who are living their lives in adverse conditions, so naturally there will be more problems than in a calm, wealthy community. This does not mean urban schools are wild and out of control; they simply have much more to deal with.
Going into the classroom, I would hold the same standards as I would for any class. I expect my student to show respect and discipline, and I am sure I would be able to find a way to get everyone to calm down. It is important in this situation to give the students a reason to want to be there. I have always found that students are more receptive when they have an understanding of their goals than when they are forced to follow commands blindly. With many students living day to day, they may not have the insight to think ahead in life. I believe if you show them the potential that is out there and help them set realistic goals, any student can achieve success. Life is all about a mindset and an individual perspective on reality. With new goals, students can change their paths and improve their lives. I know this sounds incredibly idealistic, but anything if you understand it is all potential.
My hope is that experience will guide me. Once I am in an inner city school, I will be able to see things for what they are and not be forced to make false judgments. For now though, all I have to rely on are my assumptions. I am looking forward to learning which ones are correct and which are false. I am positive that schools are affected adversely in low economic areas but it will be interesting to discover the extent to which they are affected. Are inner city schools consistently as dangerous as they are portrayed in the news and in entertainment? Is it hard to feel safe in that environment? The only way to answer these questions is to experience an inner city school for myself. Stories and lectures can provide much needed insight, but they are still opinions. Experiencing inner city life first hand is the only way to truly understand the fundamentals of teaching in that environment.