Another August, and again I suffer through my usual bout of sympathetic nervousness, thinking about all the teachers and students getting ready for that first day of school. I guess it’s normal. Though retired now, I had 25 years of those high-anxiety beginnings, the last 17 at Amon Carter-Riverside High School, here in Fort Worth.
Yes, that Carter-Riverside High School, made famous in June by a racist teacher’s tweets to 45, complaining of “illegal students” and wanting the “send them back” man to round ’em up. After that news story went viral, friends and relatives from all over breathlessly wanted to know if I knew “that woman.” As far I know, I never had the displeasure. Georgia Clark wasn’t yet at Carter when I retired, but I’ve seen enough teachers like her through the years.
Comically, the far right portrays public school teachers as out-of-touch kumbaya leftists. From my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of teachers I knew were politically and socially conservative with a large contingent being evangelical Christians. And the vast majority of those conservatives were good teachers. I may not care for their politics or their religious leanings, but the ones I knew loved students, legal or “illegal.” Maybe that’s why the Georgia Clark story bothered me so much.
It might also be the strong connection I still feel toward my old school. I am protective of it, its students, and its neighborhood, where I still live. After my wife died four years ago, I slowly inched back into the dating world. What an eye-opener that was. One woman I met through Match.com was impressed by my pics and banter, yet when she found out I lived in the Carter-Riverside neighborhood, she quickly informed me that I lived in a ghetto, not the working-class, mixed-race barrio with wonderful neighbors, great taco trucks, and pho restaurants that I knew.
Urban schools, like Carter, get a bum rap, too. When I was teaching and went to parties, I’d tell people where I taught, and they were immediately apologetic. “Poor man,” they’d say. Somehow they’d gotten the fool notion prevalent in pop culture that urban schools are violent hell holes where sagging cholos roamed freely. That’s just not true. Almost all my students at Carter were outstanding young men and women.
There, I was primarily an English-as-a-Second Language teacher. Can you imagine going through the usual struggles of teenagerhood and on top of that having to learn a new language and culture? I can’t. That’s why my ESL students were heroes to me.
I always assumed most of them came from households where the parents were undocumented. It never bothered me. It makes no sense not educating their children. As for Ms. Clark’s rant about students not standing for the pledge, I told mine they didn’t have to. If they didn’t want to, I totally understood. They’re from a different country, and even if they weren’t, students shouldn’t be forced to perform a rote, meaningless display of faux-patriotism. And neither should public school teachers or professional athletes, for that matter.
This year, Carter will mercifully be without the infamous Georgia Clark, no matter what the school board ultimately decides. Thank goodness. It’s more than sad when a school like Carter – where so many teachers and staff work hard to help students – becomes known for the irresponsible actions of one person who shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
If Georgia Clark had as much animus toward students as her tweets showed, it was long past time for her to move on to other pastures. And leave teaching to people who care about students, who support them, and advocate for them but, most of all, respect them, regardless of where they come from or their immigration status.
Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue is a Fort Worth writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Weekly welcomes submissions from writers of all political persuasions. Contact Editor Anthony Mariani at email@example.com.