Jeffrey Dean-educator.

When I first became a certified teacher, it was rough. I taught in the toughest district in the state of Missouri, Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS). I was working at Sumner High School.

Back in the day, it was a very prestigious school. The first all African-American school west of the Mississippi. The historic Summer High School was the home to Alumnus, such as, Dick Gregory, Tina Turner and more. 

Fast forward to 2016, and it has been given a bad reputation. A lot of negative stigmas associated with Sumner. It was on the verge of being closed numerous of times.

But past alumni fought hard to keep its legacy alive and running. And I am glad they do so because not only is the school special, the student body is as well.

            When I first started at Sumner, they were trying a new 9th grade academy program. It was separate from the 10th-12th grade program.

Meaning, we had our own principal, Dean of students, curriculum etc.  We had a new 1st year principal, new 1st and 2nd year teachers and so on. Everyone was pretty much new. The students were fresh from middle school and ready for this new experience.

Everything seemed good, right? Man, my first class of the day, there was a big fight amongst two children. Literally, trying to knock each other’s heads off for no reason.

Throughout that year, it was hard trying to get certain kids to stay up in class,  pay attention or simply follow procedures.  We were mentally exhausted and drained.

The kids had won the battle and we were waving the flag to surrender. Not all of the kids were causing a disturbance but the ones that did, when they did it, it would just throw the entire class off. And not just for my class but every teacher’s class.

            The principal understood our frustration. And this is when things took a turn for the greater good and my perspective I had on children, changed forever.

We had a mandatory staff meeting after school one day and my principal begun with  something like, “I know you guys have had complaints about some of your students. I know some days are rough but let me paint this picture for you.” He then went on to say, “That bench outside across the street, a child from this school sleeps on that every night because they are homeless.

One of those prostitutes you see on the corner every day, is a child’s mother. Several kids are getting abused at home. Another child is the head of the household, working and paying bills after school. Certain kids only have heat or a hot meal when they come here.”

There was more to the story but once he said that, I understood what he was trying to get across. How can these students take education serious when they don’t even have their basic needs met? They are trying to survive; they can careless about a math equation or a Romeo and Juliet story. 

Before I get frustrated about why a child is sleeping or acting a certain way, I need to put in perspective why.

Now that still doesn’t give them the right to misbehave but knowing this information helped me become more patient with my students. And with patience came understanding, and with understanding came a connection with those children. They still had their ways but out of respect for me they tried their best to stay up or even apologized and correct themselves if they acted out or said a curse word. And honestly, that’s great.

The majority of those kids have grown up to be great leaders in their communities. Some are married, in school, have their own businesses, and living out their dreams. Unfortunately, there were a few who weren’t so lucky.  I had a few kids that died from gun violence or were incarcerated from different crimes.  At the end of the day, if you are in education and it seems that the students are disconnected, find out why. Understand why and do what you can do to help change that. It is only so much we can do but sometimes, even the littlest amount of assistance can make a huge change.