Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I was not a very talented football player in high school.

I was a freshman the first time I ever tried out for the team. That summer, I came home discouraged on a regular basis, having had my ass handed to me day after day, and twice a day during summer (if you’ve ever played football in high school, “two-a-days” should be an active component of your lexicon). I was disappointed that I didn’t start, but what worried me even more was my father’s disappointment. Everybody on the team seemed to have played before and I felt like I could barely compete. One day after practice, my he came to pick me up and asked me how it went.

“Okay, I guess,” I responded.

“What do you mean, ‘okay, you guess?’ How’re you doing?”

I swallowed hard and before I could block for them with some sort of qualifying remark, the words jumped out of my mouth:

“I don’t think I’m going to start.”

It got very quiet. Looking back, I don’t think my father was as disappointed at my potentially not starting as he was worried about the depleting effect it would have on my self-confidence.

The silence seemed to last for hours, but in reality, it was probably only a few seconds. Let me just insert the fact that my father was a talker…he could stretch out an anecdote, the explanation of a complaint, his opinion, or any other platform for days. But that day, he only had one thing to say:

“Adrian, don’t worry if you don’t start. There will always be people that are stronger than you, faster than you, more talented than you…shit, better than you. Those people may out play you, but don’t you ever in your life let anybody out work you.”

I ended up starting about two games into the season. Beat this kid named Alex G. straight out of his position. When the occasion called for the coach to give an explanation, he stated that “Ayers plays with more (expletive omitted) heart.”

Today was the first day of school. I have worked for the last 21 days nonstop, sometimes for 12 hours a day. I have gone to countless professional development meetings, set my daily alarm for 5am just to get a few extra hours in, scheduled meetings with my principal to get extra input, arranged for the building to be open during the weekends, all in an effort to prepare myself as adequately as possible. I even got sick…physically ill…and I’m sure it was from lack of sleep, not eating properly, and overall mental taxation.

Some of the veteran teachers have warned me about peeling out and having no gas for the finish line. My first inclination is to tell them I’ll rest when I’m dead, but when I consider how I felt a half a step away from that very same grave a few days ago, I realize how sage that advice is.

Yesterday, I left work at about 6:30. I probably would have stayed longer but I had tickets to go see Raphael Saadiq and doors opened at 8. My logic for buying tickets to a show the night before my first day as a teacher was that if I didn’t wear myself out somehow, I would be up all night thinking about what I may have overlooked. The last thing I did before I left the building was remind myself that there comes a time when one must trust his or her abilities and place faith in the fact that he or she did everything possible to prepare for what is to come, and I had reached that point. I went to the show, had a blast, got home at about midnight, and fell asleep quickly. Before I did, I watched the last half of “Friday Night Lights”.

When I got in front of the class, there was no anxiety, no jitters, no dry mouth…nothing I expected might become an obstacle. Strangely enough, I was most worried about being worried. At the end of the day, other teachers shared horror stories about their classroom management problems, how they forgot parts of their lesson plans, had schedule conflicts interrupt the flow of their lectures, etc. I faced the same obstacles, but was more prepared, and quite literally, could not have scripted a more ideal first day of my career. I will revisit this day as long as I live.

One of the most pivotal moments in “Friday Night Lights” was the halftime speech given by Coach Gary Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton. Not unlike my experience during two-a-days as a freshman, the Permian Panthers were getting their asses handed to them. Literally beat up, cut, bleeding, and facing a seemingly insurmountable and infinitely intimidating opponent. The speech goes as follows:

“Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It's not about winning. It's about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could've done. Can you live in that moment as best you can, with clear eyes, and love in your heart, with joy in your heart? If you can do that gentleman - you're perfect.”

As cheesy as this may sound, those were my final thoughts as I drifted off to sleep last night. When I woke up this morning, I thought about my father, as I have every morning since his passing. I walked into my class with swagger and confidence because I know that no one on this staff has out-worked me.

The kids fuel my passion, and that passion fuels my drive.

I am a starter on this team.

I am perfect.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Consciousness is the first step towards liberaration...


I've been tutoring J since the end of May.

A bit of background...During my tenure as a student teacher, one of the English classes of which I was a part started at 9 am in the morning. As you may imagine, there was more of a problem with absenteeism in that class than the second and fourth period classes. J was enrolled in that class and would show up sporadically, and would participate to a degree which directly coincided with his presence, which is to say that sometimes he was there, and when he was, sometimes he worked. His absenteeism may be attributed to several factors. Aside from the regular distractions of an urban teenage existence, he was in and out of court, on house arrest as he awaited a trial, had no father figure in the home, etc. Eventually, J was kicked out (suspended indefinitely) of school for quite a few infractions, one of which included "threatening" a teacher, after which he flew into a rage and all but destroyed a classroom.

By the time he was suspended, my tenure as a student teacher had already ended. By the time June reared its hot, humid ass in D.C., I had since signed my contract to teach English and American Literature at the same school. One day, I got a call from the Special Education coordinator. She asked if I was interested in tutoring him at a group home to which he had been sent. I told her I was, and after a meeting or two to establish our goals and legal parameters, off I went.

Up to then, the only exposure I had had to J was during the dozen or so times he showed up to class while I was there. J is a big kid...14 years old at the time, over six feet tall, easily two hundred pounds, with huge hands and a perpetually confident gait.

The week before my first meeting with him, Ms. H, my mentor and cooperating teacher, had informed me that he was "coming back", and when I asked her what to expect, she looked at me with raised eyebrows and said "Oh, you don't know about him yet? Mmm..." and shook her head slightly. Quite frankly, that made me a little uncomfortable.

When he first walked into that English class, Ms. H leaned toward me from behind her desk and whispered "That's J, the kid I told you about."

Let me pause for a moment and inject a little Seinfeldian anecdote. George Costanza, the perpetual loser, whiner,owner and holder of the short end of the stick, once had an epiphany. He decided that he had become that way because every decision he had ever made up to a point had been wrong. The day he decided to go against his instincts, he got a job with the New York Yankees by being disconcertingly candid with Steinbrenner, landed a stunning blonde by telling her he was unemployed and lived with his parents, etc.

That day, my instincts told me to feel J out first, to gauge his mood and act accordingly, to not expect too much based on the negative perception I was fed which, I am ashamed to admit, grew exponentially with time. However, I reminded myself of two things. First, I have never met this kid before and he has probably been judged his entire life based on both his size and his color and second, I was the teacher and authority figure. I was the teacher and authority figure.

I marched up to him, extended my hand and said "Hey, man. I'm Mister A, I'll be here for a couple of months helping out Ms. H. What's your name?" He slouched in his chair, gave me a cold stare and said "J..." with a halfhearted extension of his hand. "Nice to meet you, my brother," I said, shaking his hand with the respect I feel I have the right at this point to assume he had been denied on a regular basis.

Little did I know that this moment would be a very important commencement for both of us.

Before I started tutoring J this summer, I was told that:

J is an unabashed misogynist.
J is overt about his disdain for white people.
J reads at a fifth grade level and has a long path of remediation ahead of him.
J is a sociopath.
J doesn't like to work.
J is a perpetual complainer.

There's more, but I'm sure you get the picture, reader. Whether or not this is true, what I have found is that J has a very tough skin, without which he would probably not make it in his part of the city. It took me from our first encounter...our commencement...to get through it and to the heart of J the person, without which I would not be able to understand J the student. As soon as I adjusted our summer curriculum to create a counterbalance between J the student and J the person, I found him to be an intelligent (if not academically seasoned), insightful, quirky, hard working kid who, while guilty of making some really bad decisions, is very often misunderstood. After repeatedly telling me "They ain't never teach me that" after explaining some grammar mistakes he made in some paragraphs, I got him a grammar book. Its boring, its tedious, and the language is intimidating, but he busts his ass because he recognizes its relevance. When we study it, I am infinitely blessed with those "I get it!" moments for which no one recognizes the value but those who solicit them.

I got him studying Mumia Abu Jamal...his essays, his biography, his case, and he asks, almost begs, for more assignments. He has (at least with me) shaken his fear of saying "I don't understand" which, to me, are almost as precious because it means he has acquired the will to understand. When he reads, he underlines words he doesn't recognize and asks me what they mean.

I've grown to love this kid. In the free moments that segment our time together, he tells me about his family, describes the girls he is interested in, and provides me with explanations about the times his behavior was unacceptable. We talk about life's choices and, when necessary, draw connections between what we are studying and why it is useful.

J is, at times, a sociopath...he is crazy...he doesn't like to work, and is, in fact, a perpetual complainer.

Doesn't that just make him a teenager?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I am very nervous about beginning teaching this Fall. I was hired to teach English at Maya Angelou Public Charter School, a predominantly black school at which I did my student teaching and which bills itself as a "second chance" school for children with behavioral problems--although in a more official capacity, most administrators will tell you that it is a setting designed for children who "have a hard time functioning in a normal high school environment."


As I mentioned, I did my student teaching there for my certification, which is the main reason I took the job there, although not implicitly. It was really the kids. I think my rationale is illuminated by a quote from AS, one of the students in my 9th grade class. I was given a large posterboard folded in half like a card. One side said "Thank you Mister A!" On the inside, all of the students signed it, and some of them wrote short expressions of appreciation, not unlike a yearbook. AS wrote, "Thank you for all your help. You helped me alot even when I was playing and joning I appreciate what you did thank you. I hope you get that job here! your friend AS"

AS was one of the kids who did the most to make my job difficult. I was constantly after him to do his work, to not disturb his neighbors, to quiet down, etc. Not a week went by that I didn't have to pull him out of the room for a private conference, and not a day went by that I didn't have to remind him at least five times to stay on task. He usually waited until the very last minute to turn in his assignments, and as a result was frequently behind in his work. Quite frankly, I thought he hated me, especially considering the look on his face when I pulled him outside the classroom door.

AS is quite obviously ADHD. He can't sit still...at all. Neither can JS, the student I tutor who was kicked out of school for threatening a teacher. However, when I mentioned it to an administrator, I was told "not to tell the parents, the school has to pay for testing if someone from our end recognizes it as opposed to the parent."

Strangely enough, if these are reasons that would typically make someone leave, they turned out to be the ones that made me stay.

I mentioned my certification track, and my intention with this blog is to unobjectively document my triumphs, obstacles, and failures. I went to the University of the District of Columbia for my undergraduate degree in English, and since it was affordable and convenient, I also did my coursework towards certification there. The difference between the two experiences are polar opposites. Undergrad was great, but I have yet to receive a grade for my student teaching because while the education department insists that the English department is responsible for my grade, the head of the English department is firm in his belief that the education department is responsible for my grade. Its been going back and forth since the end of the school year, and I have been instructed by the chair of the education department to write to the dean. Fun stuff!

I know this entry has been a bit tedious and not as interesting as it could be, but its purpose was to provide some background and a bit of a reference point on which I may build. Trust me, it gets better...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007