About Nikki

Something of a life coach to artistic teenagers. Music educator. Passionate about equality and the ethical dimensions of teaching. Always searching for inner peace.

The Wonderful World of Boarding School

So, I was making my four hour drive downstate to visit friends and family (and take a break from my wonderful, but very stressful job) and I ended up spending a chunk of time contemplating, of course, the very job that I’m taking a break from. I realize that I spend a lot (i.e. nearly all of my time) talking about my work, but I find that it’s a job that most people barely understand. So, let me take a moment to address some common misconceptions about being a residence hall counselor at an arts boarding high school.

“Oh, so you’re a teacher?”

Uh, well, not in the conventional sense. I teach, that’s for sure, but instead of teaching math and science, I’m a teacher of life skills. I teach kids how to plunge toilets, how to properly load a washing machine, how to talk to someone that irritates you, how to respect space, how to respect yourself, how to use a broom (but really), and how to be a generally good person to other people. There are things I teach that would probably make your head spin.

“Oh, so you’re like a mom?”

Also, again, not in the conventional sense. I am definitely like a mom – I say things like “put on a coat!” when they try to walk outside in a tanktop in the middle of a Northern Michigan winter, things like “watch your language!” when they swear in the lobby, and I’m there when they run up to the desk with a beaming smile to show me the finished product of a class project. But, we’re not quite moms. We’re closer in age, and we serve many roles for the students: friend, confidante, older sister, and crazy aunt, to name a few. While a teenage girl might not be willing to talk to her parents about her long time crush on a classmate, she’ll be totally willing to sing a song about how much she likes him to me, or she’ll ask for advice on how to handle a conflict with her best friend.

“Oh, so you’re like an RA?”

I have to fight my internal bias every time with this statement – I never took my college RAs very seriously, to be honest, and it’s colored my on the concept of “residence life.” I do programming like an RA would, but it’s not like college where all the programs are on the dangers of alcohol and unprotected sex! If I were on a spectrum from RA to mom, I would be waaaaay closer to a mom.

“Do you live in, like, an off-campus apartment?”

This question kills on a bad day. Each night, I sleep in my own apartment in the dorm – it’s two rooms connected by a closet, and it’s way more space than my nomadic self needs… and this is the same residence hall that my darling girls sleep in. I’m on-duty five days out of the week, and I sleep in a building with 70+ 14 and 15 year-old girls. The real kicker is this implication: I’m accessible and responsible for student life aaaaaall night long. If one of my girls needs something at 4am, it’s not only encouraged for her to knock on my door, but expected! I would do anything for my girls, but after a long work day, the last thing you want is to be woken up by a crying door. Or a run to the emergency room. Or a door alarm being set off and having to search every. single. room. to see if somebody has snuck in or out.

“Wow, it sounds like you need a glass of wine!”

Remember the part about being responsible for 70+ children? No nightly glass of wine for me!

“Well, how ’bout breakfast?”

Unfortunately, I work until midnight each night and the thought of waking up at 8:00am makes my soul ache. If breakfast means 10:00am at the earliest, that sounds great!

“So, what do you ACTUALLY do, then?”

I don’t think this kind of work can accurately be described to anyone. We regularly joke about the fact that one of duties is listed as “other duties as assigned.” Want some examples? Helping a kid mop up toilet water, peeling a sobbing girl off the ground after she finds out that her friend committed suicide, telling a girl that she needs to be discreet and sanitize her sex toys, taking a girl to the hospital who speaks very little English and having to explain to her what “recreational drugs” are, using a lighter to burn the ends of pointe shoe ribbon for a dancer, “come to Jesus” talks (we haven’t been able to find a better way to phrase that, really), evacuating a building when a kid overloads a washer and it fills the basement with smoke, teaching said kid how to do laundry without burning down the building, and a score of other things.

tl;dr: My job defies description, makes for great stories, and in the end, we chose this.

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An Argument for Traveling and Escaping Social Constraints

Today, I called my grandma and her first words were a vehement, “You can’t go!”

After a little bit of digging, I discovered that after enduring a bit of harassment, my mom had told my dear, sweet, and very worried grandmother that I was planning on going to Nicaragua for a Spanish immersion and homestay program in June. We argued back and forth for a little while, though not angrily – she was worried to death and I was primarily exasperated trying to explain my desire to see the world. At my most frustrated, I erupted with, “You can’t keep me in a little box forever!”

Society teaches that the ideal is getting good grades in school, going to college and graduating with a degree (but hopefully not in philosophy or something equally as useless), working in a tiny cubicle from 9-5 (or just a good ol’ 9-5 job of any nature), getting married, having a bunch of babies, retiring and moving to Florida, and dying. Anyone who has ever made a choice outside of that line of thinking has had to endure criticism from family, colleagues, friends, lovers, and sometimes even random strangers. We’re told regularly that money can’t buy happiness, but yet, most adults I’ve known spend half of their lives working in jobs they hate to make money and then have kids and feed them the same “money can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a college degree and it’ll buy you a job and you can work work work like me and one day you’ll be happy.”

Well, I’m not happy with that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad I got the degree I did. I love teaching music with all of my heart, and it would take a lot for that love to be destroyed (though I don’t doubt the overwhelming destructive power of bureaucracy). But you know what? I’m not ready to settle. I want experiences that you can only get from digging your hands in the earth: from gorgeous sunsets in Africa, from Mayan ruins, from eating street food in Thailand, from feeding starving children, from watching tribal dances, from speaking a language I barely understand, and from being absolutely and utterly lost in a place I’ve never known and having to find my way. 

I’ve spent my entire life in Michigan. I was born in a small city where I spent the first 17 years of my life, spent 5 years at a college only 45 minutes away, and spent 5 summers and now a school year in Northern Michigan. I’ve barely traveled outside of my own state, and I’ve never left this country. I have no perspective on what happens outside of this tiny little box I’ve lived in, and I want to know. I’m sick of money running my life, of those stupid little green pieces of paper that heavily influence the way that I make decisions. I don’t want a house with a white-picket fence that I bought with my 9-5 job where I met my husband with whom I had a lot of babies. I want to connect with people all over that world, and when the time comes when I might maybe feel like settling down, a job teaching middle school with a few cats and a wife to come home to would be a nice substitute for all of those things society wants me to have. 

But I do understand that I’m young. These things I want now will mold and change over time as I grow older and gain more experiences. Regardless, I can tell you this: I want to create a life for myself where I don’t feel trapped into the constraints of society and what it expects of me, and I want to find meaning in the beauty and life of this world. I would rather take risks for the hope of a life rich with experience than settling into a dull life of security and ease. Maktub.

The Rapid Deterioration of the Michigan Public School System

I’m just going to throw it right out there in the title line.

Coming from a public school background, I am constantly astounded by the differences between my own school experience and working at a private arts boarding school. I could talk for days about how surreal it is being here. While some of the students have substantial assistance via financial aid and regularly raise money for tuition, others have parents that have no qualms dishing out $50,000 a year for a high school education. Some of them are entitled little brats, some are the most down-to-earth kids I’ve ever met, and most fall somewhere in the middle.

One of the things I appreciate the most about this school is how much the people here care: everyone from the faculty to the cafeteria workers to the housekeepers to the piano tuners. The arts faculty are ridiculously fantastic and push the kids to incredible heights. The theatre productions here bring me to tears. The singer-songwriters could successfully sell albums. I could see some of these kids playing in top orchestras, or having successful solo careers. On top of that, the academic teachers here are amazing, as well. They’re innovative, expect a lot out of the kids, but they are understanding and spend plenty of time outside of the classroom offering extra help to the students that need it.

Now, explain this to me: why isn’t this kind of education accessible to everyone? We have a public school system, don’t we? And here comes the sad truth: you can get a good education, but only if you can afford it.

(I’m jumping into the territory of generalizations, so please bear with me. I certainly know that not everyone falls into this boat.)

The quality of your public school education is directly related to how “nice” of an area your parents can afford to live in. Going to a public school in a more affluent area often means that parents can often provide funding for particular activities, sports, tutors, and after-school programs. The teachers are likely well-paid in comparison to a smaller, less-affluent school district. Parents are more likely to be involved because they aren’t working multiple minimum wage jobs so their families can afford to survive. Students are able to focus more in class because they aren’t thinking about the fact that they went to bed hungry the previous night. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s where the bureaucratic bullshit comes in: due to No Child Left Behind, schools with low-performing students on a standardized test (a snapshot in time meant to be representative of student’s intelligence and school performance) lose funding. This eliminates the ability of a school to provide extra resources for students who need it. Instead, the funding goes to the school that is already providing sufficient resources for student success. It’s like the government is dangling the bone of funding over the struggling public school system, and it’s a foot too tall to reach. It’s another aspect of our society making the rich richer, and the poor poorer.

Oh, and a fun fact? Every teacher I have ever known has spent out-of-pocket money on supplies for their students. Even the ones with solid funding. So, where is the money going? Oh, maybe to pay the administrators that make well over $100,000 a year, making crucial decisions regarding the fate of schools under their leadership without ever stepping foot in them. In the beginning years of my public school education, it was typical for the administrators to have actually been educators in the past. Now, the people being hired as administrators are often hired for financial purposes. Schools are being run as businesses, rather than for the purpose of education.

I suppose I should get around to telling the story that caused me to write this. I recently just found out that my alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, entered into an affiliation with Education Achievement Authority. The EAA is the governing body of the Education Achievement System, a school system developed by the state of Michigan that takes over failing schools. The EAA’s first big task has been to take over the Detroit Public Schools, fire half of the teachers, and replace them with Teach for America recruits. Eastern signed this agreement without ever considering the opinions of the College of Education. (I think it’s safe for me to say that any educator with an ounce of sense realizes that the EAA is a sack of garbage.) Because of this association between EMU and EAA, the Washtenaw County Education Association is boycotting EMU student teachers – they’ve seen the damage the EAA can do, and did to the Ypsilanti Public Schools (now a consolidated district).

This is real to me. I have so many friends in the education program at EMU who are going to be truly great teachers, and they came to Eastern knowing that it had a great reputation for producing fine educators. This association is going to negatively impact my friends in being able to find a quality student teaching placement. On top of the immediate effect it has on students currently attending Eastern, it also sullies the degree I previously obtained there.

To be frank, I’m mad as hell. I’m mad at the administration of EMU making such terrible choices. I’m mad at the state of Michigan for taking over schools and running them into the ground. I’m mad at the country for implementing such outrageous standards for education, for labeling the worth of our children with a test score, for labeling the worth of our teachers with their students’ test scores, for education becoming a commodity that must be paid for and reinforcing poverty and sending kids straight from our nation’s schools into our nation’s prisons.

I am rapidly becoming more and more disillusioned with the state of Michigan and its decisions regarding education. I need to take a breather from all of this rage! I appreciate any thoughtful commentary on what I’ve written. Good day, all.

The Weapon Against Hate: Compassion

Today’s topic: Hate.

Oh, we have endless types of hate in this world, but I feel like telling a story today. Here it goes.

I went with a comrade and good friend to a bullying presentation last night at a local bookstore. (“You went to a bullying presentation?!” “Anti-bullying, sorry!”) There were a series of events this week regarding bullying prevention throughout Traverse City, culminating in an anti-bullying conference held today. This particular presentation I attended was led by a woman who works for the Anti-Defamation League, which I was a little ashamed to have never heard of until last night. The primary program she was there to represent was No Place for Hate.

Now, having gone to school ever, I am always wary of a program that proclaims to be the fix to all bullying problems that exist in schools. If I had a dollar for every assembly I sat through in my elementary, middle school, and high school years with inspirational stories and messages that ended with “bullying is bad,” I would actually be able to afford my terrible coffee addiction. But I really liked hearing this presenter speak about this program, primarily because it seeks to address the roots of the bullying behaviors, rather than just the behaviors. One of the things I enjoyed tremendously was in a resource guide she handed out. In the guide, there was a graphic included titled the Pyramid of Hate.

Image

I love this. Love love love this. Most people either don’t notice that they are participating in acts at the bottom of the pyramid, or don’t think it’s a big deal. But that type of attitude becomes the basis of further hatred, and more obvious acts of hatred, with the peak of hatred being genocide. And truth be told, we’ve seen this play out too many times in the past century alone. The Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The Hutus killing off the Tutsis in Rwanda. You think we’re in an age free from hate? It’s out there, and it’s slowly and insidiously creeping into a new place, a new society, and one day, somebody is going to take that hate and make something truly horrible happen with it. (If you haven’t watched the German film The Wave, you should check it out. It has a very interesting perspective.)

Okay, back to the bullying (“anti-bullying!” “I’m sorry!”) workshop. There were ten people attending the presentation, including myself. The last person arrived somewhere in the middle of the lecture. At the very end, the presenter was taking questions and this late-arrival, a very soft-spoken man, asked some sort of roundabout question along the lines of “The CDC says that being a homosexual is a health risk. How could a friend comfortably talk about her concerns without being accused of bullying?” For a few minutes, the lecturer tried to divert the question, and then he asked again, more directly. Two seats down, my comrade’s friend said, “I knew he looked familiar! I see him on the street all the time, preaching about the homosexual agenda, and the dangers of homosexuality.”

Great. I hate those people.

So, the entire table of people stiffened up and looked very uncomfortable. The presenter did a beautiful job of deflecting his questions and handled herself with great composure. I clenched my fist, and my comrade was ready to hold my hand so I didn’t stand up and throttle the man for how ridiculously misguided he was. My friend and I made a point to say that we work at an arts school where homosexuality is not only tolerated, but accepted! We’ve had openly gay class presidents, transgender class presidents, boys feel like they can holds hands with boys, girls feel like they can hold hands with girls. Rock on!

He wasn’t having any of it. We all stood up and left.

I hate that these people exist. This is a man who feels like including sexual orientation on an anti-discrimination policy is a part of the “homosexual agenda.” It literally sickens me to think about the fact that there are people in this world who think that bullying kids because of their sexual orientation, or often perceived sexual orientation is completely okay.

But here’s another thing that makes it even worse: I speak so highly of the acceptance on my school’s campus, but just a few days ago, one of my colleagues received a nasty, nasty hate letter. Why? Because he’s African-American.

I wanted to scream when I found out. There are thousands upon thousands of people who fought FIFTY YEARS AGO to destroy that hate. We are living in the year 2013. I just can’t believe this. It was a big fat reality check for me. I’ve always loved it here because of the acceptance. As a wise woman once said, “You go to arts school. You learn tolerance, or you have no friends.” (Thanks, Mrs. Burkett!) We have people from so many countries, from so many backgrounds, from so many places and experiences, and that’s one of the things that makes this place and this job so beautiful. And yet this one person, with two letters full of hate, has filled me with so much sadness and rage and has left me feeling disillusioned.

This is the important lesson part, so pay attention: Hate breeds hate. I want to hate this person, but I can’t. I want to hate the TC Family guy (www.tcfamily.org – having fun reading it and not vomiting out of disgust), too, but I can’t.

Instead of focusing on the hate of the TC Family guy, I should be focusing on my friend that was there to hold my hand and the eight other people that stood up and left because they weren’t going to waste their time and give this man an opportunity to spew his rhetoric of hate. Instead of focusing on the hate of the mysterious writer of the hate letters, I should be focusing on the 25 members of our staff rising up to give our friend the love and support he needs right now. Even if there is hate in this world, there is so much love out there to combat it.

I want to be on the compassionate side of history. I want to feel compassion for those that hate, even though it’s hard as hell sometimes. I hope that they will never experience the pain of discrimination, the pain of sharp words, the pain of suicide of a loved one. I hope that one day, they will understand that just because you were born into a family or church or culture that hates, it doesn’t mean that they have to continue that legacy. I hope that one day, they will also find compassion.

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” – His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

The Human Side of Homelessness

My dad was homeless for two years. He was fired from his job because of his heavy drinking and long-term alcoholism.

For awhile, he slept in his van. When winter came, he sold the van for a bus pass and lived in various homeless shelters. The one I remember the most distinctly was in the bowels of Detroit, in an area that nobody sane would wander around at night. I remember wanting to see him for Thanksgiving, but the bus wasn’t going to run late enough for him to come to dinner. I also remember taking him to a hotel room so he had somewhere to sleep on Christmas Day. I remember crying in my car, feeling like I should be doing more, but understanding that I had already done everything I could to help and it was on him now.

The reason I bring this up isn’t because I want to tell a sob story for pity, but because this period in my life gave me an entirely new perspective. I always remembered being nervous around homeless people on the streets; people who begged both out loud and with signs, scraggly men and women with bad teeth and unfortunate circumstances, people I assumed who would take sign of goodwill and use it for booze and drugs, not for food.

And then, all of a sudden, I looked at those homeless people and I saw my dad. I saw him in every single person on street. It took me a long time to not feel like my heart was being shredded to pieces by it. Before, I couldn’t ever imagine anyone I knew and especially anyone I loved ending up on the streets. It was so real now.

Okay, here is the education connection: it is real in our classrooms, too. I have had students who were homeless. Students with parents with drug problems. Students who have been abused. Students who might still be abused. Students who have been sexually assaulted. Students with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts. Students who are in gangs. Students who have watched people die because of gang violence and gun violence. Students who simply grew up neglected and unloved.

And the sad truth? You walk into that classroom and you have no idea who those students are. But I can guarantee that at least one of them is sitting through school that day without knowing where she/he is sleeping that night, and they’re not going to come with a pretty little label like scraggly man with bad teeth.

This all sounds like some sort of nightmarish urban classroom, but even teaching in a “nice” area doesn’t exempt you. We had homeless kids in Ann Arbor. I work at a very expensive boarding school, and there are still students who suffer from homelessness. A rather wild example is a student from Russia who has a parent involved in journalism that wrote some unflattering pieces about Russia. Because of this, their family has been exiled from their homeland. He can never return to Russia. Homelessness, as with many situations, isn’t always cut and dry.

Every kid has a story. I can say this for certain: my past teachers that have made a genuine effort to listen to my story have easily been the most influential people in my life thus far. They helped me find the confidence I needed to become so much more than I ever thought possible. I know that the absolute best way to thank them for what they have done is to pay it forward and do the same for a new generation of students who need it, too.

This one is for those teachers. You know who you are.

Teaching Moment: The Power of a Name

Once, I quietly sat in on a conversation between a student and her former teacher. She told us that she does not feel appreciated by her new teacher.

“I had a solo with the clarinet, and he hadn’t said anything about it. Well, the very first rehearsal, he said ‘We might need this to be just clarinet.’ But nothing since. And after the concert, when you told me my solo was great, I realized that it was the first time anyone had said something good about it.”

The new teacher in question is a brilliant teacher that I really, truly respect. He has a reputation for fairness in his classroom, and for fostering an attitude in his students of learning for the sake of learning (be the best you can be), rather than competition (be the best). But regardless of that great philosophy, this student slipped through the cracks. 

I have always felt that having a personal connection with your students is one of the most important factors in teaching. Kids don’t want to hear what you have to say unless they know you care about them. It took me five years of working with middle school aged students to realize that caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean that they like you, and showing that you care is sometimes providing a sense of consistency for them to live by. This becomes especially important in discipline.

This particular student had a younger brother who shared similar sentiments. In the past, with his former teacher, he was one of the biggest behavioral issues in the classroom. He received more infractions than the rest of his class combined. And regardless of all of this, he came back one day and said, “Thank you. I understand now what you did for me back then.” 

These two students gave me another one of my most important teaching moments: the power of a name. Their names. In music education, in a large ensemble setting, it is very difficult to give individual recognition to every student – some classes may have 50, 70, 100 students! (Even more if you teach a large marching band!) But those tiny moments are important. They don’t have to be public declarations, but can often be quick moments between classes or during passing time in the hallway. To the kid who regularly disrupts rehearsal with unrelated xylophone music but manages to keep his mallets behind his back today: “Hey Brian, I really appreciated your focus in class today. Keep it up!” And to the kid whose scales normally sound like one note but actually go up and down in pitch this time, “Nate, your scales are improving!” Praise effort. Praise improvement. And keep pushing them to be even better. The middle school bands that I worked with in my student teaching were utterly impressive in ways I had never experienced before. (Who would have known that 7th graders could know all 12 major scales?!)

Once, I had to attend this professional development day with my music education comrades (all seven of us!) and we sat in the corner and were probably borderline disruptive. We showed up that day wishing we were in our classrooms working with our kids, and instead, we had to sit through a bunch of lectures. However, we ended up attending two gems: one was a lecture on classroom management, and the other was on at-risk youth. The lecturer for the latter brought up that many kids will go through a day without a single person, let alone a teacher saying their name aloud. Let’s be realistic: maybe greeting every student at the door isn’t an option because your classroom is on a cart and you barely have time to get set up in a transition time. But every effort to connect with them counts, even the quiet little clarinet player in the third row that barely speaks above a whisper. Especially that little clarinet player.

Maybe all this particular student needed was one sentence, one little affirmation to know that her hard work was appreciated. And here is the sad truth: we are not always going to be able to keep everyone from slipping through the cracks, and it can be heartbreaking.

But you know what? We have to try.

Teaching Moment: You Suck

In my student teaching, I had two 6th grade brass classes. The first class met just before lunch, and it contained an even split of girls and boys. This particular class was one of my best sixth grade classes: very skilled, and very dedicated. They were always ahead of the other classes, and were eager to learn new concepts and new songs. My cooperating teacher and I treated them with more challenging repertoire, and they soaked it up like little brass playing sponges.

The other class, however, was a nightmare. They met at the last hour of the day, and they consisted of a rowdy bunch of boys (along with two very tiny, very quiet girls) that I struggled to keep in their seats, let alone playing their instruments. Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, this class was primarily low-performing African-American and Hispanic boys.

One day, I pulled the trumpet section into the cafeteria for scale testing. Throughout the testing process, I had various students that slipped away to goof around on the stage, run around for no apparent reason, and verbal interruptions galore – all in all, a typical day. The first student who played was my wonderful little outlier, an Asian-American boy who practiced regularly, nailed everything on the first try, and did not provide an ounce of distraction in class – ever. The second was my tiny Asian-American girl who often turned red whenever she played in the upper register. (She is a championship diver, by the way – from what I have heard, she might be at the level of attending the Olympics when she is older.) The third student was an African-American boy who was quiet and respectful unless provoked by his peers. He struggled through his scale, missed partials, and I asked him to repeat it. He got the right partials the second time around, and I congratulated him: there was definite improvement from last week.

The fourth student, I had to retrieve from the back of the stage. He spent more time evading his trumpet than he ever did playing it. He was my class clown, and a constant culprit of bad classroom behavior. It became evident as he started playing that he did not know his fingerings, and he stopped the moment the scale got difficult. He dropped the horn from his face, and he yelled “Ms. Harris, what’s the point of even trying?! We suck! Everyone tells us we suck!” This is followed by a chorus of the other boys yelling, “Yeah!” 

And suddenly, I was so angry. Not at this boy who refused to play his trumpet, or at the outburst of his peers, but at every single person that had ever told these kids that they suck, that they are not good enough, and “what’s the point in trying?” This was not about the trumpet, or even about band. My rowdy class of African-American and Hispanic boys had a history of being told that they suck, and they have heard that message for so long that they believe it to be the truth.

I break out the low, borderline deadly teacher voice.

“You do not suck. Don’t feed me that crap for even an instant. Every single person in this room is capable of playing this material, and I don’t ever want to hear that come out of any of your mouths again. I will not tolerate you not trying.” The room was, for once, absolutely still and silent. “You hear me?” My group of rowdy boys (and super tiny championship diver girl) nodded meekly.

“Now, let’s start again.”

I was astounded by the improvement in behavior and effort the next few weeks. It was not perfect by any means, but I felt a newfound sense of respect coming from those students, and I had developed a very new sense of respect for them. 

I know it seems like I draw a lot of attention to the race of my students, but I feel like it is an important factor. Minority students underperform in our classrooms, and there is no denying it. But why? Well, I would hazard a guess that a huge part is this assumption that little African-American and Hispanic boys suck and they’re not good enough and what’s the point in trying.

Instead of letting them struggle through the system and putting up with subpar work because that is what we expect from them, maybe we should be pushing them to succeed. Maybe we should be filling our classrooms with posters of role models that aren’t basketball or baseball players. Maybe we should be address the fact that they are acting out to save face with their friends. I have pulled one of my most behaviorally challenging culprits and had completely reasonable conversations with him where he was willing to admit that he needed help with his schoolwork, something that would have been blown off with a stupid joke in front of his peers. A disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic boys are diagnosed with learning disabilities. A disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic boys drop out of school and end up in our prison systems. Is that because it’s easier to slap a label on them than encouraging them to succeed?

I am a new teacher. I do not claim to be an expert. I do not claim to know all the answers. But what I do know that kids respond to respect, and respect is a two-way street.

Think on it.