Saturday, November 18, 2006

Integration Memories Part III

When I graduated from college my first teaching job was not in a situation I particularly liked, but teaching jobs were not easy to find at that time, so I was glad to get it. I taught 8th grade science all day long, without any help. They gave me a textbook and an empty classroom and said teach. That was it. I felt totally isolated, as this was long before new teachers had mentors or any help at all.

So I jumped at the chance the next school year to get out of my contract two weeks before school started to take over as Chemistry and Physics teacher at the school where I had done my student teaching. I was already familiar with the lab and the textbooks, and I knew my way around the school and liked the faculty. So what if school was just two weeks away. I was tickled to death. And the year passed very quickly, with no hitches at all.

The next year, however, had a slightly different start. When we had the faculty meeting before the students came, I found out that, because I taught college prep subjects, I would be one of the teachers to have the first Black students to ever go to a White school in this city. This particular country town was one with a strong KKK influence, and everyone was expecting trouble. Mind you, I had finished college in a hurry, and had only been teaching two years, so I wasn't much older than these Juniors and Seniors I was teaching. This was quite a responsibility they were putting on my shoulders, and I was very nervous about it.

I had some very good reasons to be nervous, too. The plan was that at each class change, every teacher would step out into the hall, to watch for any problems as the Black students moved from one room to the next. That worked fine for most classrooms, but it didn't help me at all. The Chemistry classroom was on the second floor of the old school, on a wing that only had one other classroom on it, with its own stairwell, stuck way off on the backside of nowhere. To make matters worse, there was an outside door at the bottom of the stairs. It was decided that the outside door needed to be chained shut. I was not to let the Black students out of my sight for any reason at all while I had them in my class, hall, or stairwell, so there were a few times that I actually wet my pants!

The four students I inherited were all the top of their class and could handle the work with not problems at all. They were scared out of their skulls most of the year, and as I recall, none of the white students spoke to them the whole school year.

The police were able to deal with the trouble makers outside the building, and we were able to continue on with the business of education inside the building, but it was anything but a normal year. It was certainly a year I won't forget, and once again I was there when the clash of the old ways and the new ways met full force.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rosemary,
How did the next year go? Was your school integrated on a greater scale then? I still remember the first black students at my junior high. They were handpicked, bright and kept their heads down and their minds strictly atuned to the business of school. One student in particular sticks out in my mind, Ezra. He made a place amongst us whites, but when the white high school was merged with the black high,he was forced to align with the black students and he became standoffish to his white classmates.

Dirty Butter said...

My memory of that next year is very fuzzy, Sheila, so I can't really answer you. I do know for sure that the school did not integrate in large numbers while I was teaching there.

The reason I'm fuzzy is that at some point along in there I quit teaching, because we were trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant, and we figured it was the stress of my job. Imagine that! So that next year may be the year I quit, or the stress may have been so bad that I've just blocked it out, I'm not sure.

Anvilcloud said...

I can remember the ealry years and teaching students who weren't too much younger than I. Some rough and tumble types too.

Dirty Butter said...

That was the real advantage to teaching Chemistry and Physics students, anvilcloud. I didn't know what a discipline problem was! Now I'd had my hands full of them, when I taught 8th grade science, but not with these College Prep kids. They were serious about learning and making good grades, and I was not an easy teacher, either. I gave them plenty of opportunities to make extra points by doing outside work, but if they didn't have the points by the end of the term, tough.

jan said...

It sounds like you were able to handle the situation very well in spite of your youth, or maybe because of it? At that age we may be more idealistic and more sure we can change the attitudes of the world.

Dirty Butter said...

I was very confident of my abilities to teach the Chemistry and Physics, and that helped a lot. I look back on it, and I think I did a pretty good job of handling a very difficult situation, Jan.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I'm in awe of you teaching Chemistry and Physics!

I remember the fear we felt, as young students, when (in our case) the Native students were integrated.We were so afraid of what we didn't understand!

It makes me sad to think of it.

Dirty Butter said...

LOL, Marion, I can tell you from personal experience that teaching first graders is MUCH harder!!

At least your emotion was fear. Parents handed down their feelings of hatred to their children, making integration in much of the South that much harder.

Chana said...

i think that you have a very important job to do for God on earth. i think because so much of your life has been crossing roads with so many important events in history, it probably has to do with all the lessons you have had to teach others about what happened and what is moral and humane.

thank you for all that you have to teach and share.

Dirty Butter said...

I've never thought of myself as being particularly important, Chana, but I did make good use of my life experiences when I taught Social Studies. This blog is my last chance to share these experiences with people, and I thought it was important that I write it all down.

Chana said...

well i thank you for sharing them and through them, teaching us..and yes, you are mighty important.

hugs.

Dirty Butter said...

You make me blush, Chana, but thank you for such kind words.

Anonymous said...

I had to say something when I read where you said you didn't think of yourself as "particularly important." Teachers are some of the world's most influencial people around. For good or bad. I still to this day remember my awful second grade teacher. Fortunately, I had many more memories of fine teachers. My son is considering teaching which is again strange because he does not like little kids. He does love history and social studies and has had wonderful teachers in this area.

Rosemary, your influence is greater than you think.

Dirty Butter said...

I did feel like I was doing something important when I was teaching, Sheila, but I really don't feel like I'm doing anything all that important now. Our children are grown and on their own, and we don't see them very often.

I try to make a difference in my posts and comments, by expressing my faith in God when I feel it's appropriate, but not being preachy. Yesterday's Memories is my chance to share the parts of my life that I think are important in showing the value system of my era. I hope starting BLOG VILLAGE has been a meaningful step, but in the larger view of things, it may be of no lasting value. It's hard to say if the Day by Day blog could possibly be of any help to anybody but me, but I plan to continue it, anyway. And the Plush Memories blog has definitely made some precious little ones happy and their parents relieved, as their children were happy again.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with everyone that you are making a difference in our lives as you share here at Yesterday's Memories and your other blogs. We can tell that you are writing from your heart and not just trying to spout off head knowledge.

Dirty Butter said...

I am, by nature, an simple person, Janey. It wouldn't come easy for me to embellish or shade the truth about my life stories, so if that's what you mean by writing from my heart, then I guess I stand guilty as charged.

I do appreciate the encouragement to keep writing that all you great blog friends give me. There's just something about knowing that someone is reading what you have to say that brings out the best in you, if you know what I mean.