Wednesday, September 26, 2012
I'm Hollerin', Greg Michie! You Hear Me?
For those of you who haven't read it, Holler if You Hear Me is a series of anecdotes from Michie's 10 years teaching in inner-city Chicago, predominantly Mexican-American schools and the struggles he and his middle school students face: poverty, gang life, teen pregancy, and understaffed, unprepared schools--Michie originally applied for a position as a substitute and was offered a full-time position within a week, despite having no credentials. Right away, it probably conjures up images of Dangerous Minds, a correlation Michie and others have been quick to point out. However, where Holler sets itself apart from the Hollywood teacher-as-savior stories is in his failures as a teacher. His students don't all graduate, resist the call of the streets, and go to college. In fact, most of them don't.
The purpose of Holler isn't to affirm budding teachers like me that we can "change the world"; it isn't even to show us what we're up against, though, arguably, it can do both of those things. It's purpose is give his students a voice. Each chapter begins with a short anecdote (usually a teaching moment but sometimes just a story) about his students, his school, or a fellow teacher. But each ends with an interview with a single-student related to that story. And it's here we learn about who these students are, their goals, where they're going, what they think about this or that. These are invaluable perspectives when our society is so often sold on "The Single Story" of inner-city schools. "They're all gang-bangers, drug-dealers, promiscuous, can't-be-taught-and-don't-want-to-learn"--when so often, the opposite is true. The result is that teachers, schools, and entire cities often give up on them before they've even been given a chance. So many of these children end up turning to the only lifestyle they're told they're suited for. And the cycle reinforces itself.
I read The House on Mango Street at a time in my young adult life when I still didn't really know Mexican-Americans could be authors--Chicano literature would remain largely foreign to me until I started my Masters degree at New Mexico Highlands University. So, as for the "Mango girls", one line always stood out to me: "When you leave you must remember to come back for the others." It's appropriate then that one of those girls went on to college, became a teacher, returned to Michie's school, and sent students of her own off to college, too. So the book isn't devoid of hope, and if anything, it's a call to action.
In the end, I'd recommend Holler if You Hear Me to any teacher. As my professor noted, it's also simply about the teacher as "other" to his students and how bridging that gap can make all the difference in an effective classroom.
Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?