Dozens of educators gathered to tell stories of the challenges and joys of teaching at Ash & Elm Cider Co. The event was organized by teacher Ronak Shah and sponsored by Teach for America. In the coming weeks, Chalkbeat will share a few of our favorites, lightly edited for clarity.
Anita Saunders works with programs for young children at Indianapolis Public Schools. This story takes place during her time teaching at Tindley Preparatory Academy. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.
I did not go to school to become a teacher. I went to undergrad, graduate school, got my doctorate, worked in the nonprofit world and then joined (Teach for America). For my TFA career, I was placed at an all-boys middle school.
This event happened my second year teaching. One day, they are supposed to be doing a research paper on the Underground Railroad. And I had just finished explaining to them what the assignment was and what they were to be doing.
They are all working silently, and I’m thanking the lord that I finally got them quiet for a little bit, and we are actually getting some work done. Then I hear, “psst, psst …” You know, that whisper that starts to happen, that you know is going to grow louder and louder if you don’t get control of it.
I give what has been dubbed the “Anita stare.” I give the stare to tell him, “Get your act together.” Then I use my non-verbals. I go closer. I give him the look.
He was quiet for a little bit, and then all of a sudden, I hear this: sniff. sniff.
It’s the same kid that had just been talking, wiping his nose with his sleeve.
For about the next 5 minutes, he’s talking and snorting snot. I’m thinking, well, sending him to the office, I’ve been there with him before on this. And going to the office really doesn’t faze him very much. I know, though, if I call his mother, then that’s going to fix it.
So I pull out my cell phone, dial the number. I got mom on speed dial, because you have to do that with a couple of students.
Phone rings, and someone answers, and I say, “Hello, good morning. This is Dr. Saunders from the school, and I’d like to speak with Jonte’s mom.”
This voice comes back: “Well, she’s not here right now. What can I do? What’s going on?”
I said, “Who is this?”
“This is his Nana.”
I said, “Well ma’am, he’s having a little bit of a struggle in class right now. He’s talking, and he won’t stop.”
She said, “What is that boy doing?”
I said, “He’s talking,” — and I’m looking right at Jonte — “he’s talking, and he won’t stop.”
She said, “That boy knows better than to do that. We take him to church every Sunday. He knows he’s supposed to be respectful, especially at school.”
I said, “Well ma’am. I know you do a good job, you and his mama do a good job. But the lesson in church is not getting through. Maybe he needs some more church. Do you guys go to Wednesday meeting?”
She said, “His mama and I go, but he’s got basketball practice on Wednesdays.”
I said, “Well you know what” — and I’m looking at Jonte — “maybe he should miss basketball practice.”
He’s shaking his head, She’s talking to my Nana! She’s talking to my Nana! And I’m still looking at Jonte, and she said “Really, you think that’s best?”
And I said, “Yes ma’am I do. I think he could gain from more church and less basketball. Another thing. He seems to be a little ill right now. He’s snotting and everything.”
I said, “I’ll see if I can get him to blow his nose a little bit, maybe send him to the nurse, but as long as he stops talking for right now, that’s going to be enough for me right now. You let his mom know that I called.”
She said, “Well you think maybe, so I should take him to church? Should I give him some medicine when he gets home?”
I said, “Well, that may not be a bad idea: A little more church, a little more medicine.”
She ends the conversation with, “Well, you the doctor.”