chapter  10
8 Pages

Teaching Against the Odds

Selena was a mature, robust, medium-height, dark-skinned girl, who sat near the back of the room in my eleventh-grade English class at a large, inner-city, senior high school in the Deep South. She was often inattentive and lazy, for she came to class without homework assign­ ments, books, and writing paper. Usually, she had to borrow a pencil. Around school, she had the reputation of antagonizing both male and female students. Here I was, in my second year as a teacher in the pub­ lic school system in South Carolina, trying desperately to impress both my colleagues and my principal that I was a very capable English teacher. The setting was familiar to me: an all-black high school with an all-black faculty, a large, industrial upstate city, a large and conserv­ ative black community, a middle-and upper-class white community that was separated from all of the components of the city, including the black neighborhoods. My challenge, therefore, was very clear to me: to teach students like Selena how to read, write, talk, think, and listen with critical skills. To meet my challenge, I also had to guide them gingerly through the mine field of racism, pointing out the familiar hidden mines of hate and destruction. I decided to use litera­ ture as my detector.