Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America

Author: Heather Kirn Lanier
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by acjohnson55   2017-08-19
Wow, funny to see this on the front page of HN, as someone who once taught high school math there. That two-year stint was the most challenging experience of my life, by far.

I was the founding math teacher at a brand new turnaround school with a rookie principal. I had 5 weeks of training, and my job my first year was to prepare my students for the very same state test mentioned in this article. To connect that with the typical HN world, I was literally a day 1 employee at a startup meant to replace an institution that had failed in more or less the exact same situation. Despite the intensity of the experience, it was deeply transformative for me.

To briefly react to this article, I am not surprised. Baltimore is a poor and segregated city. But that socioeconomic stratum has many layers. There are many ways to end up at a better school. Some are selective, others are high demand and have a lottery, still others you simply sign up for. So you need to have good academic performance or have someone looking out with you with even just the modicum of savvy required to simply opt for a better school. If you have neither of those things, you end up going to your default neighborhood school (e.g. any of those 6 mentioned in the article), which is certain to be completely swamped with students coming from deep poverty and social dislocation. These are schools that tend to have the same number of 9th graders as 10th, 11th, and 12th combined, due drop outs and transfers.

I'd be happy to answer any questions.

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I journaled my experience here: https://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Terrordome-Years-Baltimore-A....

One of the schools mentioned, Fredrick Douglass High, has a deep history, and its modern day woes were profiled about a decade ago in the HBO documentary Hard Times At Douglass High: http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/hard-times-at-douglass-high....