Ah, middle school. The glory days!
What’s that you say? You hated middle school? No one could pay you enough to go back and do it all over again?
Oh, right, you’re probably remembering the sting of the first day of 7th grade when you sat at the pretty girls’ table in the cafeteria and watched them walk away one at a time until you were sitting by yourself with your brown paper lunch sack and the note from Mom: “Have a spectacular start to seventh grade! I love you!”
…Oh, that was just me, then?
This blog is for the 7th grader trapped inside each of us, still crying out for acceptance with a chunk of PB&J caught in her braces.
Since they couldn’t pay YOU enough to go back to the alarmingly dingy hallways of middle school and navigate the sea of raging hormones, I did it for you. Yes my friends, I willingly subjected myself to two years of teaching 6th and 7th grade while coping with my own resurgence of insecurities and stress-induced acne.
My classroom and this blog highlight the hallmarks of adolescence: heartbreak, humor and hope.
More importantly, this blog illuminates the resilience of the students I taught, most of whom are facing incredibly complex lives as a result of growing up in a high-poverty community in South Dallas.
MORE ABOUT ME: I’m Taylor Jackson, a writer and advocate for social justice. I write for those of you who are looking for a different narrative about education, poverty and race.
I believe that we all share the awkwardness of adolescence, although the individual challenges we face while growing up are unique to our context and community.
I believe that minority, low-income students don’t need to be saved, rescued or changed by teachers and leaders outside of their community; they need to be empowered to own their education and the change they want to see in their lives and their neighborhoods.
I believe that poverty is not destiny. Education can open doors to opportunity for low-income children.
MIDDLE SCHOOL ME and a few of my favorite things circa 2002:
Music: *NSYNC, Brittney Spears, Usher and Matchbox 20 were my jams!
Hobbies: Band – I was the 6th chair French Horn player, out of, you guessed it, 6 people.
Sports: I played soccer and competed in track: high jump, long jump, triple jump, 100 and 300 meter hurdles.
Theater: I played Lily St. Regis in Annie Jr. and some random character in King Stag. No autographs, please!
Favorite way to spend a Saturday: UIL academic meet – competing in events like Ready Writing and Dictionary Skills. I was the definition of popular, y’all.
MODERN DAY ME and a few of my favorite things from this decade:
I love to travel! I have been to 5 of the 7 continents so far.
Music: The Head and The Heart, Local Natives, Lord Huron and basically anything other than heavy metal or country music.
Hobbies: yoga, scrapbooking, photography, reading young adult fiction novels (#can’tstopwon’tstop), driving with my windows down and singing along to the radio.
Favorite way to spend a Saturday: Giant mug of coffee, journal, novel to read, sunlight pouring in the window and a new Pinterest-inspired creation baking in the oven.
MORE ABOUT MY STUDENTS
I taught in the 75216 zip code in South Dallas. In 2008, there were 681 inmates from our zip code sitting in prisons, and 2 graduating seniors from our neighborhood high school that were deemed “college ready.” (Read more about this here.)
I knew that teaching in a low-income school district would be challenging, but I could not anticipate the complexities my students and I would face on our journey through middle school. As I got to know my students and their families’ stories, I became disillusioned. While most of the parents were working as hard as they could to provide opportunities for their children to succeed, the education system in this neighborhood was not fulfilling its promise to prepare students for careers and college.
Teaching low-income, high potential students became a place where idealism met reality and courage met complexity. I summarize my two years in four words – resilience: faith despite failure. More often than not, the roles reversed; my students modeled the meaning of grit and bravery for their teacher.
This blog is a glimpse into my classroom. Yes brave readers, I’m showing you the good, the bad, the ugly. This is the uncensored version of what happened within the four walls of my 6th grade English Language Arts class during my second year of teaching in the most “troubled” zip code in South Dallas.
WHY RIVERS & ROADS?
This blog has two main sections: letters to my former students and photographs of rivers and roads in Waco, Austin, and Dallas, Texas. As an adult, I have lived in these three sizable Texas towns, each of which is characterized by firm racial and socio-economic boundaries. The physical, racial divisions in these cities are rivers and roads, a result of white flight that is still shamefully present in these communities today.
Drive down I35 in Austin. On the East side of the interstate, you will see mostly Black and Brown neighborhoods, while on the West side there are primarily White communities. The Trinity River divides Dallas North and South, and Brazos River splits Waco along minority and non-minority lines as well.
This blog is meant to be a bridge between disparate communities. As a White teacher in a minority community, I longed to tear down the physical and emotional separations between my White friends and family and my minority students and their families.
I believe that experience is knowledge, and knowledge is responsibility. I have the responsibility to share my experiences in a way that is authentic to the complexities of the interracial relationships I experienced in my classroom and the South Dallas community.
This blog is about color. Skin color, yes, but more than that. The photos and letters are meant to sprinkle color and light on a weary debate. This is a place for those seeking a sparkle of hope, connecting that which is deeply human in all of us. This blog is not meant to be terribly political. I think we have enough of the blurred gray lines, the ideology and debating. This space is designed to remind people of the shared emotions of growing up, and to illuminate some of the particularly resonate challenges for minority, low-income students on their journey to become young adults.
JOIN MY CLIQUE
Maybe you were the kid who ate lunch in the middle stall of the bathroom every day. Or perhaps you were the nerd who beat me in Regional Ready Writing in 2003. Or hey, maybe you were one of the pretty girls who left me to eat lunch alone so many years ago.
Whoever you are, whatever your story, I’m glad you’re here.
I can’t wait to hear from you! Fill out the form below to be added to my email list:
Hip rip the way! I came across your blog tonight while I was face booking and I’m overjoyed! It was just what I’ve needed to read lately. I’ve had so much controversy lately going back and forth between majors and minors and what not and this is another time education is screaming at me! God placed you in my life so many years ago when I was going into 8th grade I think(07?) at pinecove and even now in my second year of college you are inspiring my life! Thankyou for sharing this part of your life, so that I can continue to admire you(:
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