Tuesday, November 8, 2011

my name is latu and i am a high school drop out

when i was 11 years old, i was in the 6th grade. my teacher was named mrs. day. she was a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, first year teacher. looking back now, i am sure she was convinced she would conquer the world, one impressionable child at a time. she started out the school year by letting us know she had driven by our houses the week before. there was no explanation or justification. she just let that loom in the air. i knew for a fact my house was the most ghetto in the class. i was the only one in my class from the poor area in our school boundary. the other kids were from richer neighborhoods slash were rich. :) at least to a poor 11 year old!

mrs. day paid me lots of attention, right from the beginning of the year. the unfortunate thing is that the last thing i wanted as an 11 year old was attention from my teacher. at the time, i felt like she hated me and picked on me. if there was a teacher's pet (which there most definitely was) i was the opposite. while other children had the opportunity to turn in assignments late, the teacher was very strict about the late assignment policy with me. i spent countless reward days or holidays working by myself in another classroom, unable to participate in whatever the class was doing. i was not disrespectful; i was still much too young to understand that i could do what i wanted at school, even if the "rules" forbade it.

on a field trip, the class waited in line to get our sack lunches out of the box. when my turn came in the line, i grabbed my lunch, rather than wait for her to hand it to me. she thought that was proof that i cut the line, and made me go to the back; ignoring my pleas that it was really my turn. instead, i walked off and cried by myself. i didn't eat lunch that day. i was so embarrassed and felt so hopeless because she hadn't even listened to me. i wrote book reports about books i had read, and was told the books were too childish for a 6th grader (at least one of them was a book i read with my friend in the class. it wasn't too childish for her) i was often not allowed to go to computers, as i was behind on my work. i wasn't allowed to check out reading books for the same reason (i needed to focus more on my school work)

one chilly day, i forgot an assignment at home. terrified that i would not be able to turn it in late, i decided to run home and grab the assignment. i was 20 minutes late, and the teacher took me outside to talk about my "attendance problem". mind you, i was a naive 11 year old CHILD. i was trying, and it did not seem like she saw it at all. i had no idea that you could stand up for yourself to adults, that everything they said was not gospel truth. i didn't know that i could tell my mom what all was going on, how i felt about this teacher, how much i hated school. i really just thought that if your teacher hated you, you were so outta luck.

in my eyes, that teacher was evil. i came to hate her. during christmas break, i envisioned creative ways i could have a class change. i plotted ways to get her to like me, but in the end i basically gave up. i endured the last half of the year, but i hated every moment of it. school stopped being fun and became monotonous and a punishment. recess was my only solace, and i became depressed. for the first time in my life, i was failing at something. i hated the feeling and i hated the teacher.

that feeling moved on with me from 6th to 7th grade. 7th grade was a ridiculously hard grade for me. but, rather than dutifully attend, i began to just sleep through my morning classes. in one term (with about 45 days) i had 27 absences and 16 tardies in my first period class. it became painfully obvious that i had not learned anything in math or science from 6th grade. this sounds really dramatic, but i truly feel that 6th grade year set the stage for the rest of my academic failure. i struggled all through 7th and 8th grade. 9th grade was better, but only because i had one amazing teacher. and high school. let's not get into high school or the reasons i dropped out with three packets to complete and in the last week of school my senior year.

the point is that until my 6th grade year, school was fun. it was a place that i excelled at, a place i felt safe. after my 6th grade year, my perspective changed and school became a punishment. i did not see the point in trying anymore. i know that a lot of people feel basically the same way, but a lot of people did not have the experience i had with mrs. day. no matter the argument, 6th grade changed my life.

a few years ago, my mom filled in some blanks for me in the mrs. day story. i guess during a parent-teacher conference (no, not the ones where you bring your parents into the classroom and show off your desk and artwork. the kind where you stay outside the classroom and your mom meets with the teacher by herself) mrs. day let my mom know that she felt i was not living up to my potential. thus, she (as a first year teacher with no children) decided she would "push latu" so that i could meet my potential. i don't know what exactly she was pushing me towards, but you can be sure that, as a high school dropout and (now) statistic, i did not meet her potential. i have thought for a long time that i didn't hate her, but i would mos def tell anyone who asked what a bad teacher she was. i guess no one's asked yet. i am just telling anyways.

knowing this has put so many things into perspective. mrs. day hadn't hated me. i was just her project. i am sure she saw me as the perfect storm; minority, poor, a girl. she was going to change my life. she was a brand-spanking new teacher, and she already had found the perfect project child. while i am sure her intentions were good, she truly did not understand me or anything about basic child psychology. she did not understand the damage you can do a child by making them a failure. by planting the seeds of hopelessness and despair in a child. i am one of the 10.3% of american high school students that dropped out in 2004. quite the statistic to be proud of.

i never saw mrs. day after 6th grade. i believe she moved out of state because her husband had finished school. i strongly feel like if mrs. day wanted children she could "push" toward their potential, she should have taught high school. at least those kids know for sure that adults are not perfect.