I guess everyone knows that all inner-cities are full of social problems, and it's not like I haven't worked with student populations that had serious home life problems before. Drugs, homelessness, alcohol-dependant siblings and parents, abuse, etc... They're problems that plague any urban school's children. But there's something about working in DC that is just a little more in your face. It's not that my kid's pose significantly bigger behavioral problems in the classroom (although they are a bit more of a challenge), it's that I've learned something horrible about the home lives of practically every single one of them. They all have therapists; they all have problems controlling their emotions; more of them are pregnant than I've seen previously; more of them are overtly involved in gang activity; and more of them are willing to threaten teachers and classmates.
It's not that I didn't expect this in moving to DC. Part of why I wanted to teach here was to hone my skills in dealing with this population. To provide an illustration, I've listed some of the more memorable things that have happened since I began teaching here.
1) I've been physically threatened by a student who called his "brotha" and let him know that a teacher was giving him "trouble."
2) I'm currently failing 19 out of 22 students in my 2nd period world history class.
3) One of our students committed suicide by jumping in front of a metro train.
4) Three of our students (all sisters) father died in a "tragic incident" (gossip - which is not necessarily to be trusted - suggested that it was a bad drug deal).
5) Out of the 70 students that I have total, four of them did their homework over the weekend.
6) When Magic Johnson came to our school to give an inspirational speech last Friday (which was great), two of my students made a huge deal about how they cussed out his manager when he got in their way.
7) When I told a random student in the hallway to tuck his shirt in (we have a strict uniform/dress code) and he gave me a look, I asked him if he was okay. He responded, "Yea - I woke up this morning, didn't I?"
I think that last one is a powerful reminder to all of us. It definitely made me stop and think for a second.