Thompson: My Story of Teaching and Learning
I got my start in education as a hiking counselor for inner city children where I gained the insights that can only be learned in the middle of the night with tent mates or sharing the challenges of nature. I’ll never forget the thrill of guiding children on a fossil hunt, and the cry of joy of a little girl "I just found a dinosaur nose! It still has blood on it!"
After crack and gangs hit my neighborhood, I became an inner city high school teacher .. and completely fell in love with the job. When a kid transferred into my class from the deep South he asked whether I had Black kids. "You’re always talking about ‘ma kids’" said the student as he mocked my Okie accent. From all over the room came laughter and the reply, "D.T. has hundreds of Black kids!" Then the class clown added, "Yeah, D.T. is a playa!"
The deep bonds with my students were the only reason why I put up with the indignities that are routinely dumped on teachers, as well as the fearful "culture of compliance" that afflicts public schools. My principal, and others, did not care for my love of playing basketball with the students, and she hated their practice of calling me "D.T.," not "Doctor Thompson."
And of course, there were plenty of warnings against dangerous practices ranging from breaking up gang fights to leading Socratic discussions into controversial areas to driving students home after games. After six years, I could not resist the itch to hike thewith some students. So, I kept my principal out of the loop, ignored the naysayers within the school, wooed the parents of a couple of my most unforgettable kids, and got their permission for the adventure.
A student named (yes) Mohamed Ali was a member of the who had been home schooled. Mohamed’s modest dress, family rules, and studiousness had made it more difficult for him to be accepted in school venues like the basketball court.
Brandy Clark, on the other hand, was the darling of every adult in the building. A survivor of some of the worst generational poverty and abuse in Oklahoma’s "Little Dixie" and southern California, Brandy was the classic over-achiever. I believe she was the last native-born African-American at our school to pass an , and after one year of drama she was a finalist for a scholarship at , the state’s premier private institution.
Brandy was supposed to be memorizing her lines for the scholarship audition, but on the trip and afterwards she slacked off on that task. was so unlike Brandy, and her answers were so unsatisfactory that a few weeks after the trip I made her schedule an appointment at the university.
As we pulled out of the school parking lot Brandy said "D.T., you are going to yell. I missed my audition. ... I can’t compete with those White girls from the rich schools with years of experience. ..." "You’re damned right I’m going to yell and yell. ... But by the time we pass 63rd Street, I’ll calm down, we’ll get it together, and you will win that scholarship!" Sure enough, Brandy swept them off their feet.
The above will be included in Sam Chaltain's new book and it is an example of the stories that can be found at Rethink Learning Now.