I’m a Motherf*kin’ Problem [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Life Magazine: The Negro and the Cities

Life Magazine: The Negro and the Cities

For the next 4 days, I’ll be writing about my students through their eyes, through mine, and then through your eyes, hoping that maybe we can grow from our limited thinking about our own students (myself included) and start to have real discussion, uncensored. Let’s get into it, shall we?

He wakes up, splitting headache, and eyes puffy and black from the lack of sleep in his house. His mom gets home at close to midnight, and he hasn’t been able to sleep well since his mom took that job at the factory. Before he gets to school, he has no breakfast. Just runs out the door to the corner to meet up with his boys, who seem to be the only real family he has. In school, first period, he naps in class, and can’t really concentrate because his mind is swirling about him. Thoughts turn to his father or lack thereof, his mom, his younger brother … everything but the chalkboard. And as he comes to consciousness, his teacher’s screaming at him. He can’t hear the first part, but eventually, he makes out,

” … and why aren’t you ever paying attention? This is why you’re not doing very well.”

He snaps. The kid just gets a grumpy and disdainful attitude towards the teacher and the class. He’s reckless, they say. After lunch, after the consumption of Doritos and Tropical Fantasy, his only lunch for the day, he’s ready to act exactly how they’ve pegged him. He’s a class clown. But he doesn’t have to care; after school, he’s the cool kid. That is, until he comes home, and it’s empty. Thus, he only needs school for socialization, and nothing else. He never follows up with anything because, unbeknown to his mom, he doesn’t do any homework. Just takes care of his younger brother. Till midnight. And repeats cycle.

What do you say to him?

What do you say to kids whose only influences tell them to do as they say and not do as they do? When they keep seeing their mom sleeping with a multitude of men, seeing her trying to recapture her youth but in the process neglecting her own children who need her love so much? When she’s going crazy in the main office when the situation didn’t call for that and all the kids find out so they’re making fun of them as the crazy mom’s kid? When their father shows up, pats your head, smacks their mom, and tells her that she better come back, and when she says no, he runs out and throws a couple hundred dollars behind him? When every male role model they have either works so hard, he comes home and lays there for hours on end? When there are days when they don’t even get to see him except in bed resting for the next 12 hour day? When the neighborhood gunrunner takes your students to the local parties and shows him how to interact with girls, and not in any way you’d approve? When the girl who acts so innocent in class has already learned that the only way to interact with a man isn’t through her intelligence or her strength, but with a wave of a finger and her lips?

What is the definition of appropriate when everything you as a teacher / educator / parent / counselor has to do just to get your students in their seats, their graphite to the paper, and their minds locked into the material? Why are they absent? What are your standards?

All these questions, and we’re expected to contend with those as change agents.

Jose, who wonders what the genesis of a nemesis is …