The Bus at Summer School

So I'm teaching at a junior high summer school program for migrant kids. It's like a mini-student-teaching thing for my minor, TESOL (teaching english to speakers of other languages). It's very fun. Very, very different from the mostly white, middle-upper class, K-8 setting where I teach Arabic. The students at the summer school are a mixture between English Language Learners and bilingual Hispanic kids. Honestly, the very large majority of them are just bilingual kids who either failed a class during the regular school year and got recommended to come, or they just want a chance to have fun with their friends. Whichever the case, ALL of them like to socialize. Most of them are very loud and speak Spanish most of the time. And I really, really, really like teaching them.

And let me just state again that they are totally different from the students I teach during the regular school year. This is a different world.

The fact that these students are loud, speaking a non-English language, they dress differently from white kids their age, and they are in a summer school program automatically makes them suspicious characters. It makes them easy targets for accusations. If anybody makes a mess in the halls, it automatically becomes theses kids' fault. If they push each other a little in the hall, it automatically means they are causing a fight.

It's not like they are little angels. For example, they are either supposed to take the bus home all the time, or never. During the regular school year, teachers aren't responsible for making sure the kids get on the bus. But during summer school, we are. Yesterday, one of the girls who is supposed to ride the bus started walking away with her friends that walk home. We called out to her to get on the bus. She kept walking the other way. Finally, she turned around and started to walk back to the bus, but by that time the bus was gone. Since she knows the rules, it was pretty frustrating. Several phone calls later (to the administrator, the liason, and her mom)...

But sometimes, things that happen are absolutely not the kids' fault. For example, we ended up with a substitute bus driver last week. He dropped the kids off 15 minutes late, at 9:20. He asked the kids what time they needed to be picked up. They told him 11:45, but it's really supposed to be 11:50. That day, we didn't end up sending them outside to the bus until 11:52. But he had already driven away. But his job is to get the kids home! He's getting paid by the hour. And he leaves a bunch of kids to get home by themselves? He was obviously furious. Those 2 minutes of his time were so precious, how could we possibly waste them? My mentor teacher commented that had we applied his adolescent logic, we would have said, "Oh no. The kids are 15 minutes late. No summer school today!" But of course that would never happen. Several phone calls later (to the administrator who called the bus driver who called us)...

The main program administrator came to scold the kids today. It felt really bad, especially because today the students worked really hard and did excellent work. We read the first part of the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and then I had them act out what was going on. It was so hilarious. At several points in the story, the person who goes to the cave loads his donkeys with treasure. "Vaminos burritos!" The boys were on all fours. So funny! And the thing is, I think they understood and enjoyed the story!

So right after they had done such a great job, the main administrator comes in and tells everybody off for not riding the bus home, for writing gang signs on the bus seats, for carrying gang paraphernalia, for being loud, etc. He threatens them with closing the program. He also brought donuts (for some reason?). This was rigth before our usual recess break. But the boys felt so angry after his speech that they all got up and left without getting their donuts. About 10 minutes later, I was still in the classroom working on something on the computer, and they all came back in to reclaim their donut. I guess they had cooled down enough to enjoy it better.

When 10% of the student population gets 60% of the referrals to the office, there is something wrong with the system. Institutionalized racism? Nowadays? Sadly yes. Even the janitors are suspicious of these children. Granted, it takes a lot of getting used to; they talk loud, dress loud, and speak another language. I think that might be the hardest part for some people; just the fact that they spend a lot of time speaking Spanish intimidates some people. They wonder what they are saying, if it's clean or not, if they are saying something about you. Now, I don't speak much Spanish, but I have been in these students' shoes in that I lived in two different foreign countries where I didn't speak the language. Sadly, this does not make me immune to the institutionalized racism imbedded into teachers. At least I'm aware of it. That lets me be able to DO something about it.


  1. I read this with keen interest, Kate. I work 2 1/2 days/week at the elementary school in my district where socially and emotionally disabled students are placed. They are mainstreamed for specials, like art, and progressively in more and more subjects as they become able. Their peers, grades 1-2, even 3 but no as much grade 4, are remarkably open to friendship. We'll talk more about this! And some of my professional adjustments this past school year with the new principal in charge. Assumptions make way for stupid mistakes....

  2. That's ridiculous to blame the kids for missing the bus when it was the TEACHERS who kept them late, and the DRIVER who didn't even stick around. Does he get paid for not doing his job? And dude, why is he asking the KIDS when he should pick them up? Didn't the principal tell him anything? It's not the students' responsibility to tell him what time to come back, so you can't blame them for being off on their estimate.

  3. how far into the pregnancy are you working, girl?! this 36th week has been H-E DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS for me! I have had THE WORST PAIN EVER....I guess its the babies head "engaging"...I never was this "pregnant" before and it really stinks...I can hardly get out of bed (which isnt even comfortable) let alone go to work, teach these students and deal with all the nonsense thats going on....you are brave! And I'm a big time wuss!
    Hope youre not feeling as cruddy as I am..I was literally in tears from the pain last night. not good!

  4. That sounds frustrating. I did TESOL at BYU and did an internship in a HS and it was one of the hardest things I did. Go, Kate!


Add a comment!