"Mister, if we get that 80 percent," Carlos said, "you better get that tattoo on your ribs, 'cause that's where it hurts the most." I agreed without hesitation. The odds of my students outperforming the honors kids, who typically averaged in the high 70s on the exact same test, were next to none.
In my first year of teaching I sweated through each day, trying desperately to maintain order by being strict and unforgiving. "Man, Henesy has no chill," I'd hear as students walked by during passing time. I tried to force math down their throats, and results were disappointing.
My second year, I tried something different. If a student faltered, I probed rather than punished. Soon I began to learn about the complexity behind the faces at the desks in room 307. Jackie's family didn't think she was smart. Emily's eating disorder turned a promising academic trajectory on its head. Tyler was about to become a father and knew he wasn't ready. As I listened to them and shared stories of my own, they began to trust me in ways my previous students had not. Our bond strengthened, and their motivation and performance increased.
Months later, I fed the final exams through the machine; there were eight perfect scores, not one student had failed, and the class average was an 86. So, I got the tattoo.
Each morning in the bathroom when I rub my eyes, I'm greeted by the composition of inverse functions in dark green ink on my left ribcage, and reminded of what's possible for low-income students. I won't rest until I've inspired many more.