In the Grime: An Inner-City Teacher’s Rant

Warning: Tanner suggested that this post could seem unfair to people with legitimate first-world problems if not read carefully. Please know the purpose of this post is not to shame anyone for sharing their personal struggles in any capacity. That’s a healthy and normal practice. The purpose is to share a dilemma I am experiencing: I am facing a first-world problem because I’ve spent so much time facing first-world problems.

I know we all face challenges in life, and I know everyone’s struggles are different and we should all have sympathy and empathy for one another. However, some days it’s hard for me to take other people’s struggles seriously, even though I know they’re perfectly valid. In short, sometimes I judge because some days I feel like if I read one more post about the internal struggle of feeling beautiful and worthy or the stress of taking care of the children one chose to bring into the world or the suffering of those who get to work with grown adults (even obnoxious ones) all day long, I just might scream.

I know that probably sounds terrible, but I wonder if anyone else feels the way I do. I wonder if anyone else who works in the grimy, underrepresented parts of American society feels the same way when their news feed is flooded with people complaining about just about everything and seemingly ignoring the mess that is the real world. Because in the short time I’ve been working in an inner city school, here’s what I’ve learned about the real world: it is not my safe, middle-class upbringing with fancy homes and “innocent” kids who will never want for any material comfort no matter how many bad decisions they make; the real world is made up of kids who have no one waiting for them when they get home and who have to help pay for everything, not just cell phones, designer clothes, and the expensive car mom and dad bought them that they wrecked the next day, but also for electricity and water and the one sweater they wear to school every single day.

Even though I know I’m guilty of it, I’m sick of Instagram posts that push the idea that our lives are entirely made up of home decor and self care and constantly having the most fabulous time with the most fabulous people. I’m sick of it because striving to have or at least pretending that I have these things has not properly equipped me to deal with the real world. When I read personal narratives from my students and they’re all about being addicted to drugs by age 13 and losing their brother to gang violence at age 12 and having grown up without one or both of their parents, the state in which ignorance has left me requires that I sit on my sofa and cry because, as much as I love my students, I know that many of them will never see my love for them because they can only see through my good intentions to the bald spot in my soul that has been worn away by too much shelter from their reality.

Honestly, this rejection of “first-world” problems is due to my own sense of guilt. I’m so guilty of being self-centered and addicted to comfort. I know that when I’ve worked with other adults or at home or not worked at all that I’ve found something to complain about. I know that those jobs left me feeling unfulfilled, which drove me to post cheesy, probably somewhat embarrassing things on social media that I hoped would prove to others and myself that my life was special and meaningful and full of awesome challenges that I could overcome. I know when I say that I’m sick of hearing other people share their struggles in day-to-day life that I am being a total jerk. I don’t mean to invalidate the daily trials and tribulations of others. I do wish that more people would sift through the grime that I sift through every day. I wish more people could see the brokenness of the world we live in; and if they have seen it, then I wish more people would acknowledge it–not in an end-of-the-world, apocalyptic, Jesus-come-soon kind of way, but rather I wish more people would acknowledge through words and actions the messy and disheartening yet incredible young people my fellow teachers and I see in periods one through eight–the kids who are poor and smart and the future of this torn country. I wish they could see how much hurt they have in their lives but how resilient and strong and brave they are. Maybe if they could see them, then we could all say, “Wow. I thought I had it bad.”

 

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