Imagine you’re in elementary school. You take fraying textbooks out of a locker that won’t lock; it’s been broken since before the kids in your class can remember because no one has the time or money to fix it. You walk into a classroom with no window, dimly lit by dusty, dying light bulbs.
You and your classmates take your seats. There’s no one at the head of the classroom. You wait on bated breath. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes go by, and you realize you don’t have a teacher today.
Maybe you take out your books and read anyway, hoping you’re still following the lesson. Maybe you meander the halls to see if another classroom will take you today. Maybe you just go home.
You find out the next day that your teacher left to teach at another school. You wonder if they followed all those white kids who moved to the school that’s farther away but is said to have cleaner classrooms and newer books.
Your new teacher is a lot older. They don’t know what’s in these textbooks so you spend some time catching them up on the material. Sometimes they just talk about what they used to teach a long time ago, before you were even in kindergarten.
Eventually you get another new teacher. This one is younger. They seem surprised that there are only a few white kids in your classroom. When the kid next to you throws a paper wad at one of the kids in front, the teacher looks at them but doesn’t do or say anything.
You have a hard time listening because you’re tired; the babies cried half the night, and even though he tried to be quiet, dad still woke you up when he came back from work around two in the morning. At one point you fall asleep in class. Your new teacher wakes you and up scolds you in front of everyone. When you get home your mom is on the phone with the teacher. You hear your mom try to explain that she’s not a bad parent, she’s just having a hard time keeping things together right now. You remember her telling you how she’d dropped out of high school after she kept being suspended for being “disruptive.” Even though the white kids could have been doing exactly the same thing. She was always the one who got called out for it. Just like you.
You go to the table to start doing the math homework your new teacher gave you. You’re not sure really what it is, because you haven’t done this kind of math in your class yet. You chew your pencil and you wonder if you’re going to be like your mom. If school keeps being like this, maybe it would be better if you just stayed home and helped take care of the family.