Sometimes I sit down to write this blog and I just get so overwhelmed with all the stuff I want to say. Instead of going in order, I’ll just jump right in.
I just got off the phone with one of my favorite student’s Dad. The reason for this is not because the student is in trouble, but because he is coming home with me this summer. Yeah, you read that right. I’m bringing some Samoan teenagers home with me this summer. (This is, of course, only if Mom says okay. She’s technically holding out still, but she let it slip that she went looking for bunk beds for the spare room, so I’m pretty sure she’ll come through. Because she’s awesome like that (hi, Mom!)).
This all come about because of something that I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned in this blog, which is weird, because it pretty much takes up most of my spare time. For the last few months, I’ve been working really hard with some of my students to help them get into college. I register them for the SAT, get their SAT Fee Waivers (they can’t afford to pay), bought them SAT books, tutor them, call colleges about application fee waivers, print and send the applications, help them fill out the applications, call college coaches about football scholarships, get all their tax info from their parents, fill out their FAFSA, help them write their essays, send in their housing requests, etc, etc. And since This is Samoa, getting any of this done is a slow and often frustrating affair. And since I have what you might call, how shall we say, the less-than-perfectly-behaved students, I am doing all this while reminding them that it IS actually necessary for them to go to Math Class if they want to graduate and go to the colleges we just worked so hard to apply to. Anyway, a few of my kids got into college in the States, and while I was talking about their plane tickets, one of them asked why they couldn’t just leave Samoa when I leave, and stay with me and my parents for the summer, and then go to college in August. I thought about it. I mean, why not? My parents are super cool about such things. Next thing I know, I’m on the phone with their parents, planning the details. And that’s how the 2012 Samoan Invasion of Alabama came about. These kids have never left a 19 mile wide island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s gonna be a hilarious and crazy awesome adventure. I can’t freaking WAIT.
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but students in American Samoa are divided into two groups in high school: Proficient and Mainstream. Proficient kids are your English-speaking, mostly well-behaved, sometimes Honors students who take classes like Physics and Pre-Calculus. Mainstream kids are the all the other ones, whose main flaw seems to be not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of English speaking ability. Unfortunately, this lack of English is often mistaken for stupidity, which is just NOT THE CASE. It infuriates me, how the Mainstream kids are treated like they are dumb and will never be able to go to college, because I am convinced some of these kids are SO SMART, they just don’t a very good grasp of English, which is the language of instruction since it’s an American territory. Imagine trying to go to high school where the language of instruction is a language you didn’t learn to speak until you got there. That’s how it is with some of these kids.
Mainstream kids are also the ones who get into trouble more, that much is true. When I told my Department Head at the beginning of the year that I wanted to teach Earth and Space, which is Mainstream juniors and seniors, I should have maybe realized they agreed a little too readily. Lol. It’s funny, because a friend from Off-Island (read: everywhere in the world that is not Samoa) asked me the other day if my kids were “bad.”
I thought about it. There’s a full-on fight at least every other week in my one of my classes. I have had kids throw desks. They talk all the time, even when they aren’t supposed to. They skip class. Three of my seniors are pregnant. They swear in English and Samoan. At least three of my students are on probation, one’s in jail for dealing drugs, and another just spent the last night in jail for beating someone up. One of my students was forced to move here from California because he had joined a gang (Sons of Samoa, it’s a real thing). They are all super cheeky. They ask me inappropriate questions. They write all over the desks. They hardly ever do their homework. Basically, they are every nightmare I had before I got here.
So how’d I answer my friend? “Oh, they’re not that bad.”
Because here’s the thing: I love them. I seriously love almost every single one of my misbehaving, wannabe gangsters. They are so funny. They are the most loyal people I have ever meant. They love their families. They are amazing singers and artists. Most of the genuinely want to do well in life, but they’ve been surrounded by people telling them they need to make “fast money”, not follow their dreams. When it comes down to it, they don’t want to disappoint me. They don’t like when I’m mad at them. They are the most funny, genuine, goodhearted people I have ever met, and I am so lucky to have them in my life. Are there days when I want to rip their heads off? Yep. But even if my day is completely awful, all it takes is one of them doing something like making me a Valentine, or telling me I’m the only one they can confide in, and everything bad just melts away.
Speaking of Valentines, this week was Valentine’s Day, and I am the proud recipient of a dozen Valentines, most of them from the “bad kids” who most of the other teachers can’t stand. I love them, and vice versa. My principal actually said something wise to me the other day when he found out which kids I was helping go to college. He was surprised at the kids I was helping, and then he said, “Maybe they only act that way because we treat them that way.” I think he’s right. I didn’t know anything at all about them before September, so I didn’t treat them like the bad kids. I just treated them like my students. And now they are so much more than that: they’re like my family.
Here are some of the Valentine's I got yesterday. Two of them are from the boys I am helping with college. They may or may not have made me cry.