“I don’t know if u care or not…”

opinion

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I recently had a former student of mine send me a message that started with “Hey ms. gray dont know if u care or not but I got my g.e.d. today and I don’t know if you remember [student] but he got killed”

My initial thought was CONGRATULATIONS! And how great of an accomplishment it is to reverse a decision that you made at an earlier part of your young life. Then of course, the overwhelming sadness of the loss of a former student.

My “babies” [as I like to call them] are from Baltimore City. The odds are stacked against some of them in ways that would be considered inhumane, if they lived one county or even a street over in some cases. Not only do they have to face these unfair realities but, they also are black. In a society where the color of your skin STILL determines your life’s trajectory, they are the true definition of roses that grew from concrete. They faced each day with an [oftentimes moody] teenage curiosity and optimism that a teacher’s eye easily picks up.

So as I congratulated him and reflected about our class experiences, I felt the impending gloom and sadness about my other student’s senseless death and an even greater sadness that his friend’s great accomplishment of getting his GED will always be connected with the sudden loss of his friend.

Now, almost 5 years since they’ve had me as a teacher, when they send me messages on Facebook or text me that they remembered something funny that happened in our 9th grade class, or that they got an A on one of their college exams, or that they’re thinking of getting a new car, I still feel a great responsibility to engage with and care about them.

No matter how many times they talked too much, fell asleep at their desks, made mistakes while writing or talking, laughed when they should’ve listened, or just were typical high school students, I never stopped caring about them. To all of my former students who read this, I’m proud to have been your teacher and proud of you. To my student who received his GED, continue to do your best for yourself and your classmate who senselessly lost his life. Living 20 years is an accomplishment I’m sick of having for our people. Despite the odds, the real feat is that roses continue to grow from Baltimore City concrete.

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“F*** Teachers!” — Says Most RappersĀ 

music, opinion

  So, allow me to reintroduce myself [Hov voice] 

In all seriousness, it feels good to write again. Unfortunately my 9-5 takes major brain energy and critical thinking powers so now that things have started to slow down in preparation for summer break, I can explore and become penspired. 

Recently, I took some time to listen to a new album, Meek Mill’s x Dreams Worth More Than Money. The new album has lots of features from viral notables like Drake, Future, The Weeknd and of course the object of his affection, Nicki Minaj. Though I enjoyed the album, I’m not here to give it a review. I want to get into a common theme in a lot of rapper’s songs, which I would like to scholastically name the “F*** My Teacher theme.  

Let’s get into this. Full disclosure, I’m a teacher and any time I hear rappers say “teacher” my ears perk up like they’re my students, especially because I respect the artist’s craft. Unfortunately, that sentiment isn’t always mutual. I’m sure everyone has had “good” and “bad” teachers. I’ve had a few that I didn’t care for and I had many that I really enjoyed and respected. Rappers are no different from you and in this experience. However, they have a means to express themselves for millions to hear and they also have a huge influence on society’s moldable minds, which leads to the following observation. 

I can trace the “F*** My Teacher” theme back to Notorious BIG on “Juicy,” when he clearly states in the intro “…to all my teachers who said I wouldn’t amount to nothing… It’s all good baby babaayy.”

  • Other examples this theme appear in Jay-Z’s “So Ambitious”

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,// Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head,// Not sure if thats how adults should speak ta kids,// Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class. I teach his ass.

  • On his new release, Meek says in his song “Cold Hearted” 

My teacher told me I would never go far//Seen him last week, he was my chauffeur…

  • And on another track,” R.I.C.O.,” 

For my teachers that said I wouldn’t make it here I spend a day what you make a year

  • Rick Ross alludes to his teacher driving a “piece of shit” in “Holy Ghost” 

My teacher told me that I was a piece of shit//Seen her the other day, driving a piece of shit”

How did teachers get such a bad rap in the lives of some of the rap game’s most prevalent? Personally, I can only speak to 3 major factors that could have diminished the student/teacher relationship. First, teachers are expected to simultaneously operate in the present and future. We are expected to push your little boo boo to do their best on their homework, quizzes and tests, while also nurturing their dreams of becoming rappers, professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, basically any and everything. In reality, all students aren’t capable of meeting those harder to reach goals and unfortunately we use the present as a monitor of ambition for students. Therefore at the expense of being realistic, some teachers limit their students ideas about their futures. Secondly, teachers battle numerous distractions each day. Disruptive students, the media, cell phones in classrooms, mountains of paperwork, standardized testing and objectives, the list goes on and on. There are some days that the psychologist and mediator hats took precedence over the encourager and  career counseling hats. And depending on your school situation, students may not see their teacher’s nurturing side as often as they would like. Lastly, teachers have personal lives as well. They’re not superhuman. No elaboration necessary.

What does all this mean, 10, almost 20 years after any of these entertainers have been students? Primarily, it means that teachers have a deep and lasting impact on their students, no matter if the student was the class clown or the class president. I’m sure that many of these teachers probably don’t remember these moments or even listen to the lyrics close enough to r ealize that they’re about them, but look at what the future held. Everybody can’t have a dope teacher like Bun B or myself [chuckle]. Some of the most successful people in the music industry are still discussing the negative turned positive impact their teachers had on them.

Lastly, I hope entertainers are cognizant about the message they send to youth. Students respect these artists and hang onto their every word. When convenient [i.e. press conferences, interviews] they encourage youth to do well, stay in school blah blah blah, but then also negatively rap about their teachers. We need these influencers to spread positivity about education, especially since everyone does not share the same educational experience and school can be a positive outlet for numerous black and brown youths. Like your teacher always said “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”