High Expectations

[written in Baltimore, MD, while teaching English at a Baltimore City Public High School]

I have high expectations for my students. So high. I don’t care how far behind their reading level is or how many writing skills they lack; they need to do whatever it takes to meet my expectations. Because I know they can do it. Because they need to see that they can do it. Because, in order to avoid a life struggling or hustling or behind bars, in order to live the lives of fulfillment and achievement that they deserve, they need to read and write–well. That means focus. Determination. Faith.

But sometimes I wonder if they think I’m asking them to perform miracles. It’s not just that I ask them to juggle the responsibilities of kids raising kids, the heartbreak of lost mothersfathersbrotherssistersfriends, the demands of a low-income household and the standard desires and distractions of adolescence in addition to my expectations. It’s that even the building in which I ask them to make this commitment is infected with the malice and malignancy of the streets. A fight after lunch today ended only after police maced the fist-wielding students. Ambulances took seriously injured students to the hospital. While I knew before I started this job that this was their reality, the incessant reminders of how incredibly hard life is for my students can literally bring me to tears.

So tonight, I cry. But tomorrow I will walk through those doors with my same high expectations. I just pray my students walk through those doors safe and healthy so that one day they can leave this place–prepared and poised to live the life I’m dreaming for them.


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