Homeless teenagers make my heart hurt.

I went to the drug store today after hours of debate to buy sudafed.  I had returned from New York with not only a new job but also a pretty serious head cold.  I hate buying sudafed because it makes me feel like a criminal.  You have to get your id checked and sign a paper.  As I pulled up there were two homeless people sitting and sleeping in front of the store.  I did what we as middle class americans are accustomed to doing.  I put my head down and avoided eye contact.  Then out of the corner of my eye I realized they were teenagers.

There are so many levels of privilege.  Over the past few days levels of privilege have been a big focus in my life.  I spent the last three days interviewing and ultimately receiving an offer for a job at a private boarding school.  One year at this school cost more than my entire college education.  The head of school asked me a question that I had been thinking about for a long time.  She said, “you seem to have a strong focus on your blog on public schools, why would you want to teach here?”

Many of the students I taught this year live in multi-family homes.  More than a third live in trailer parks.  My goal was that they graduated middle school looking towards the future.  For many of them that was making in through high school without going to a continuation school.  For all of them it was not having a baby in high school.  It was best said by one of my students in his letter to me, “My goal is to do better than my parents.”

At this new school I won’t have to worry (as much) about what is happening in my student’s home.  I will expect all of them will graduate and go to college. Their goals will be loftier.  I will not worry if any of them are getting breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I will have a different set of worries.

So why would I want to leave the public school system?  I don’t.  But I do have wants, I want to teach somewhere that invests in me as a teacher.  I want to teach somewhere that keeps me every year based on my merits as a teacher and not my number of years.  I want to teach classes of 10-17 students to see what a difference that makes on my teaching.  I want to spend time in an educational institution that’s goal is (so brilliantly stated by the head of school) “to graduate girls who know they need to give back.”  She didn’t mean just to the school but to the country and the world.  Girls that are going to make a serious difference.

My mother said to me today that we have this idea that good teachers only teach poor kids and that is just not true.  I am a good teacher no matter where I go.  The lessons that I learn at this school will almost definitely change my views and philosophies on both private and public education.  Any opportunity for me to work at a successful educational institution is an opportunity for me to learn about education.  I will learn things that eventually I could bring back to the public school world.  Or I could stay at private school and create an environment for all types of students to succeed.

I have vague grandiose plans for my future and the future of education.  I think this school is a really solid next step in building them.

The drugstore pharmacy was closed so I left walking past the homeless teens.  I spent the whole drive to my local 24 hour pharmacy thinking about how I had screwed up.  They had a sign asking for help and I didn’t.  I didn’t do anything.  I may not have the level of privilege of some people but I certainly had enough for this.  So after I picked up my sudafed I drove back to the store.  I went in and bought a variety of things (peanut butter and jelly, bread, cereal, some candy) and gave it to the girl (her boyfriend had walked off).  I asked how old she was and she told me 17.  I asked her name and she said Jenny.  I handed her the bags and shook her hand.  “Jenny, I’m Sophie it’s nice to meet you.  I hope this helps,” I gave her $20* spoke to her for a bit then left.

I am doing what I can.  I will continue to do what I can no matter where I am. I will make a difference it will just be different.

*dear dad, this is me paying you back for all 20s for gas you gave me over the years.  hope you don't mind. love, me.

1 thought on “Homeless teenagers make my heart hurt.

  1. Wow….I am speechless as I am reading this. I understand so much of what you are saying and am slightly (well more than slightly) jealous of your new job. I myself work in a low income school district with middle schoolers that have the same struggles you outlined here. I am excited to read more of what you have written. Good luck with your new job!


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