During the time that I was teaching in a high school drop-out prevention program, I read a book by Pat Conroy, The Water Is Wide. In that novel, Pat Conroy writes about teaching on Yamacraw Island, South Carolina, and confesses, “… that everything I taught or achieved was a worthless, needless effort that ultimately would not affect the quality of my students’ lives.” That is about the way I felt the year I spent in a prevention program. Drugs and sex were my students’ predominant motivators; therefore, how could I compete? I also had a challenging time seeking where I could “meet” them. I had my standards which I did not want to compromise past a certain point. Nevertheless, they had to be able to feel that I understood the realm of their existence. They called me “the preacher.” One day, I had an exceptionally large number of interruptions during my class. Finally, there was another rap on the door, and my face must have reflected my exasperation. One of the students in the class looked at me and said, “Who’s the dick at the door?” Without reflecting at all on my “standards,” I responded to the student by telling him: “Chris, please check and see who the dick is at the door.” The students loved it, and I think it was the appropriate response at that time. After that one year, the county office returned me to a “normal” classroom at Northeast High School.
When I returned for the graduation ceremony for that class two years later, you would have thought I had been the best teacher ever. I suppose I had grown on them. Maybe Pat Conroy was wrong, and I did teach them something.