Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 26 2012

The gangs of Arkansas.

Our talent show rehearsal officially ended twenty-one minutes ago, but I’m still sitting on the curb of my school’s front walkway, waiting for parents. My twelve-year-olds are losing their little kid chub, talking grown, picking up each other’s mannerisms and staying two hours after school to work on their singing, dancing, drumming, and laughing.

I don’t know why it hit me so hard when it did, why I wasn’t expecting it from all the other conversations I’ve had and heard, from all the neighboring towns. Maybe because my kids are twelve, because my kids are in Dumas, where things seem relatively safe and settled, because my kids are mine, and this stuff only happens in the other TFA schools.

But it came up, how there was a fight, where x, y, and z were jumping r because they’re in different gangs. How x is in this and y is in this, how they used to be friends but can’t be anymore. The worst was hearing about Sher.

Sher I wrote up for not bringing his backpack for the millionth time in a row, for not having anything with him. Sher will wear the exact same outfit to school for four days straight, will get suspended and sent out of the room over and over and over. Sher is known as being smart, he’s not just compliant but tries in my class, once I get him his materials. He’s been hiding in this special loophole of my heart since day one, when another teacher told me he was trouble. Yeah, one of those.

And when this talent show girl told me Sher, who asked me today if he could do an original rap for the talent show even though auditions were two months ago (we let him), is in a gang– I had stare out to prevent myself from being too openly shocked. Worse was when she said “yeah. He wouldn’t wanna be in it but his daddy make him. He said he wanna move away, cut his hair and not be in it. His daddy won’t let him.”

“Sher? He’s in a gang?”

Yeah. He was shot once,” she points to her arm, rubs were the bullet must’ve grazed him, “when he was a baby. Two or somethin.”

She and Sher used to go together, but he won’t talk much to her anymore. She keeps tabs by texting his mama and wearing the matching shoes they have that he won’t wear. She was speaking so candid, so straight, there wasn’t even room for showing off or telling stories. This is it. Sixth grade. Gangs. Guns. Parent affiliations.

So now what?

7 Responses

  1. T

    This is genuinely heartbreaking.

    I’m assuming that TFA taught you about your role as a mandated reporter, so I’m also assuming that you have reported this to CPS?

  2. Malia O.

    I am in tears reading and re-reading and re-reading this. Someone told me today that even though it’s easy to take on so much empathy that you assume guilt for what these kids go through. But you have to draw a boundary and still care, but provide them the best you can give as a teacher, leader, mentor and role model.

    • It’s a tough call, a really tough call. Strange to get used to stories like this. Err— I hope I never get “used to” stories like this.

  3. Cindy

    I got nothing.

    Nothing but love for you, and love for Sher. Brax. North Carolina New Girl. And about 125 other kids made real to me. Through you.

    Hope you can feel it. Hope you can keep sharing it.

  4. els

    Yeah, there’s not much you can say to that.

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