It’s 7:30 p.m. and this class doesn’t end until 9:00. I’m tired and I’m not focused. It’s not that I can’t hear you, and I’m not trying to be disrespectful when you ask me a question and I just stare, but my family’s about to be put out on the streets, and I need somebody to talk to.
I come here with a truth about myself. My dirty little secret is that I can barely understand this play I’m supposed to be reading and analyzing. I know that I’ve been what you call “underserved” by my public schools. Nobody ever took me under their wings or checked to see if I could read. But every day I manage to make my way through life, somehow. Scared all the time because I can’t understand the words on some of these forms I get, and I don’t always know for sure what I’m signing, but I’m ashamed to be found out. I can’t help my ten-year-old with her homework, so when I make my way, it’s kind of amazing. It’s genius, really, if you ask me. I know how smart I am, because I’m 28, and I’ve been doing this since ninth grade – faking everybody out. I even made all B’s in my high school English classes, and I made it through Algebra with C’s, and liked it, too.
If I’m honest with myself, though, I’ll confess that I can barely figure out these lines you just assigned us to read. And I’m pissed off at you for giving it to me in the first place and “raising the bar” as you put it. But I’m mainly pissed off at myself. I cry myself to sleep so many nights, not knowing what to do or who to trust.
Right now, I think you really want to help me, and I think you probably can help
me, but for me to be here, my ten-year-old is babysitting the three-year-old. There’s no phone in the apartment and I have the only cell. They slipped the orange piece of paper under my door last week and I know it means we got to go. We gotta move again. I know that much without even trying to pronounce everything on the paper and figure out words “in their context” like you say we should. Some things, I just know.
Like I know I need this class. I know I need a chance to be better, so I can take care of my children and create a future for them. If I’m ever to be a role model for my kids and make something out of my life, I need this, and I can’t afford childcare. Nobody in my family can help me with all that I’m trying to do. They have their own problems. Everybody’s just trying to make it, and nobody really understands this, anyway. So I’m sitting here, trying to look “mentally engaged” as you say I should. Trying to be the intelligent young woman you tell me I am. But I argue with old people all day on my job and I come home and cook dinner, and sleep a few hours before I have to get back up again and come here, leaving my babies home alone. I’m worried out of my mind that they might set something on fire, and you want me to talk about Romeo and Juliet?
(Excerpt from CAPTURE My Heart, Educate My Soul: A training and reflection manual for faculty of developmental English students and faculty teaching “Gatekeeper” courses, Pamela Tolbert-Bynum Rivers, Ed.D., Hopewell Publications, 2018)