Tuesday, October 5, 2010


“Why would anyone want to do this?” was the first thought that entered my mind as I apprehensively walked into Guildford Elementary Middle School off of York Road to assist their National Academic League. My uneasy thoughts were centered around Mr. Smith and the other teachers at Guildford who, try as they might, struggled greatly even getting the 6th graders to sit still for five minutes. I cringed as I imagined attempting to actually instruct these kids, knowing full well that this urban setting could not possibly educate even the most naturally intelligent children due to its disruptive nature. Teaching had never been on my career agenda and as I watched the Vice Principal dial the Baltimore Police to deal with an 8th grader who refused to leave the building, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore (or Upstate New York, where I’m actually from which, I’m sure is more desolate than Kansas).

In the poem “God’s Grandeur” the speaker praises God while berating those who go against God’s wishes, even after he gave human beings so much. The speaker says, “Why do men then not reck his rod? Generations have trod have trod have trod,” insinuating that Humans walk all over God’s creation without respect for his work and covenant with the people. Despite my lack of religious upbringing, I could relate to the speaker in the sense that I completely misunderstood those who chose to teach in such chaotic settings, not able to understand how they felt accomplished or fulfilled by this difficult and distressing job. I would not say that my feelings towards urban educators were anywhere near distasteful, like the speaker is in this poem; however, I would say that there was a mutual lack of understanding between the four groups: myself and teachers and Guilford, God’s followers and his sinners.

But just as Angela Schwinth said, “while we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”[1] On September 22nd I was introduced to Sydney. At the age of 11, Sydney knows every state capital in the United States. Further, Sydney knows more about Maryland State Government than I as a Political Science major know about my own home state. And I’m pretty sure Sydney knows more about the geography of the United States than my parents who, at 55, have traveled around the entire World.

I was right; the Children and teachers at Guilford Elementary Middle School are not normal – they’re much more. These children have faced much greater adversity than I ever had as a child. Their classrooms are disruptive and their homes unlikely to have two college-educated parents to assist them with algebra and Shakespeare, like most of the families I grew up with. These children will not have the monetary means by which to attend private universities without substantial scholarships; and yet, they show no signs of deterrence.

The motivations and goals of those educators at Guilford Elementary Middle School became crystal clear. I instantly felt the satisfaction of helping these children overcome obstacles and even the thrill when they succeeded. Quite frankly, it greatly surmounted the feeling I felt when assisting my own cousins who had teachers, tutors, friends and family praising them for their every move. These children did not have that encouragement and still possessed the drive to stay after school and learn more than even their academic curriculum required. It is people like Mr. Smith who embody the phrase, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As an educator, he goes above and beyond the call of duty, providing an after school program that harnesses potential, encourages discipline and fosters growth. I felt a connection with the Grandmother in O’Connor’s story, unsure of where to go, until my epiphany arrived. Luckily, my epiphany was much less detrimental than the Grandmothers. I realized that educators like Mr. Smith are what make Baltimore City Schools not only function, but compete successfully with the rest of the country to contribute Nancy Grasmick’s state title of Best Schools in the America. I am glad that, unlike Flannery O’Connor, I was able to find not only a good man but a dedicated and creative educator so unexpectedly, just off of York Road.

On September 29th I returned to Guilford Elementary Middle School ready to learn from these intelligent, young, motivated students, who were clearly wise beyond their years.

“Do you go to Loyola?” asked Sydney, immediately after telling me I looked like Selena Gomez - a short, pretty, Hispanic Disney Chanel Star (I’m 5’5” blonde and very pale…).

“Yes, just up the road,” I answered, trying to direct her attention back to state capitals.

“I want to go to Loyola too!” she cried with excitement and a hint of longing in her eyes.

“You can!” I encouraged. “When you graduate High School, you can definitely go to Loyola!” Ironically enough, even at 11 Sydney was already affecting life at Loyola. It is Sydney who humbled me, cultivating my awareness of my good fortune and allowing me to be grateful while understanding the injustices still embedded within our socioeconomic system. It was Sydney who further opened my eyes to the issues within Urban Education, a topic always discussed but that never registered with severity until I was literally in their seat. Finally, it is Sydney who continues to give me purpose at Loyola as a woman for and with others. As I continue my service and eventually go into Law and public policy, it will be Sydney’s situation, her knowledge and her pure ambition that drive me to work for a better Baltimore City School System. Sydney doesn’t know it yet, but she is well on her way to leaving a mark on Loyola University.

[1] "Angela Schwindt Quotes." WorldOfQuotes.com - Quotes and Proverb Archive. Web. 05 Oct. 2010. .

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