Many people in my stateside city of residence cringe when I say the name Washoe High School, their perceptions are based on stereotypes and unfortunate facts. However I am honored to spend my last two weeks before I leave to go abroad as a substitute teacher working for this school. I can see beyond the face of sadness and detect the hope and opportunity waiting for young minds to participate in the challenge, so working here is like a small way for me to help make this world a better place. Not everyone is wired for public schools, some people learn by seeing pictures or hands on activities, some learn by listening to docents at museums and libraries. Some people cant even sit still enough to actually care what is being said because they have too much life in them to contain in one place.
Washoe High School is the last hope for drop outs, troubled kids and minorities. Some of these kids are here because of a court order, teen pregnancy, behavior problems or violence. I do not see troubled kids or drop outs when I come here. I see young adults who are different than the norm the rest of us are told to worship and adhere to. I see what I might have become in the right set of circumstances or a different family situation. I don’t see kids who have issues with authority instead I see open minds which do not conform as easily. I don’t see gang bangers and crime, I see survival in a set of unfortunate choices and situations. I see all the different ethnicities coming together over a simple game of hacky sac. I hear poetry about their feelings and perceptions of life in the form of rap. I feel the strong and conflicting emotions of the transition from childhood to adulthood. And I can taste some of the desperation to break out of predetermined rules and expectations in order to find a better life, live a dream or just survive.
Not everyone who comes here are going to make it, but for some it is a much better, safer environment. The atmosphere is very informal and relaxed. I feel a sense of unity amongst the teachers, a sense of calmness and patience. When drama happens the faculty responds quickly and efficiently. Most importantly I see an attitude of optimism that supports everyone equally. At this school the only requirement for success is to simply try.
The students of this school catch my attention in many ways, they have amazing hacky sac skills, and say things you never heard before, they are even willing to entertain ideas outside of the accepted “norm.” Some of them are parents and learning their hands on education through the experience of raising their child and dealing with the results of their choices. But some are hopelessly lost, those have only their own choices and actions to live with. So choose carefully dear students.
Teaching at Washoe High has strengthened my skills as an instructor by reminding me how important it is to be firm but also respectful. I feel that I relate to these kids enough from my own background that I can encourage them in a positive but realistic way.
I was very impressed by another Washoe High teacher, Mr. Hines, he was very verbal with his enthusiasm and positive encouragement. Wherever he goes the students perk up a bit and listen to what he has to say. Most of all he was genuine, consistent and respectful.
He would say, “_ students name_, you are so cool, I really think that it is awesome for you to be sitting there on task with your hat off.”
I hope that as I start my new life in South America I can apply these simple lessons to my classroom culture to help my students reach their full potential. Stay tuned for my future posts as I continue to grow and develop my skills as a teacher of the English language in Peru starting this February…