Post

It was the summer of 1971 when Ms. Barbara, a recent college graduate, entered the gates of the juvenile detention facility as a teacher, a youthful spring in her step.

“My first day in the classroom as this new, fresh summer employee looking much the same age as the students — and I’m comin’ with all this book knowledge and all of these educational plans with me. This young man, I’ll never forget him — he said, ‘Aw, f- that! I’m not listenin’! You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about!’ … And he threw a stapler across the room. Right at me.”

She went home and cried. “I told my mother ‘I can’t go back to that place no more!’” And her mother looked at her and said, “Well, you got two choices when you wake up in the morning: You can either get up and go back and try it one more day … or you give up and you go look for a job teaching somewhere easier. But,” she said, “you are leaving the house in the morning.”

The following morning, Ms. Barbara did indeed leave the house. And she made her way right back through the gates of the detention facility, her mind made up.

She’s been there ever since.

Ms. Barbara worked diligently to learn her craft and paid particular attention to understanding the circumstances and experiences through which her students — her “scholars,” as she calls them — have come.

“I grew up in the country. So I did not, at the beginning, understand some of the struggles they had gone through. So I had to sensitize myself to the students — what they may be feeling inside — to be able to work with them effectively.”

“Many of these students are coming from experiences and schools where they didn’t have support,” she added. “So they just shut down.”

To Ms. Barbara, these young people are not criminals, not thugs, not inmates. They are students and scholars, full of resilience, intelligence, and potential.

And that’s how they’re made to feel in her classroom.

While she claims to have “retired” in 2002, Ms. Barbara still makes her way through those same gates to her scholars every day. She works now as a support in English classes and does reading pull-outs with students. And she is always on the lookout for high-interest reading to get students engaged, to get them thinking and building their skills as readers. She also recently went back to school as a student herself, enrolling in a reading assessment class to further her skills to support her struggling readers.

Reflecting on her long career, she thinks back to that day when she was faced with a choice about where she wanted to teach — whether she would go back and try harder or whether she would give up and look for something easier. The decision she made in the end was to teach, not where it was easy — but where it was most important.

And, “over the years,” she added with a smile that told a thousand stories, “it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in my life.”

Every week (and this week in particular), we honor educators like Ms. Barbara, who answered the call — and never put down the phone.

Related Content