If you enjoy helping others and have a penchant for instructing them, you might wonder if you have what it takes to teach in urban schools. We’ve all been inspired by the stories of teachers who made a difference. We watched, riveted, as we saw Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers, Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. Have you wondered if you could make such a difference? The need in urban schools is great, but you will probably be surprised at the difference between education on the silver screen and the day-to-day life of an inner-city teacher.
Real Urban Schools
Even movies based on actual events don’t capture the full picture of what it’s like to teach in the urban core. Teachers who have never lived or worked in an urban setting before are likely to experience some culture shock. Additionally, students in these schools are likely to distrust those they perceive as outsiders. The best way to manage this is by coming to any teaching job with a teachable attitude. Your humility will be your best tool.
Naturally, the challenges faced by teachers in urban schools will vary some depending on location. Urban schools in the Midwest will be in session during harsh winter weather while inner-city schools in California can be adversely affected by brown outs that eliminate power to school buildings during extremely hot school days. If you think these things are no big deal, consider the fact that many students in these schools live without proper heating and cooling at home. Beyond weather, other cultural influences will make a teaching job in the Bronx considerably different from a teaching job in Los Angeles, Chicago or Kansas City. Racial issues will vary from city to city, as will social norms or accepted social behaviors.
The Pithy, Inspiring Statement
Every movie about teachers has this, but you shouldn’t try it. The theatrics used in Hollywood’s depiction of great urban teachers are not realistic. Even if these scenes actually played out in real life, they were the result of much effort and relationship-building that never got featured at the local cinema. To change lives, you will have to pour yourself into your work as you teach in an urban school. You have to take the time to understand where students live—not just physically but practically.
Making a Difference
For all the challenges that come with teaching in urban schools, there are many rewards. The opportunity exists to make a difference in the lives of young people. Teachers in the urban core can bring about change by listening to third graders and finding out what excites them. They can motivate junior high students by bringing lessons in history, science and math to life. These teachers devote their lives to serving under-served populations, but successful urban-core teachers aren’t motivated by pity. They are motivated by caring, by concern, by a passion for knowledge and for sharing that knowledge.
The best inner-city teachers don’t teach by the book. They are flexible, resilient and innovative. They sacrifice their time and take lower salaries in order to reach students that others have written off as unreachable. A career teaching in the inner city won’t be like the movies, but if you want to teach in urban schools, you can inspire and change young lives.