Inauguration Among 13-year-olds

At 11:45, we’re in fourth period. A young man, who is often, quite honestly, extremely disruptive, sits silently at the back of a bunch of desks crowded in front of the television. The invocation begins and the young man bows his head. He is soon wiping tears from his eyes. Other students look at him, smiles on their faces, but they say nothing. As the pastor begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the young man joins in. He says his “amen,” smiles at those around him, puts his head down on his hands, watches, and waits.

Fourth Period watches

Fourth period watches

As Obama begins to take the oath, the African American boys — and they are a majority in that class — sit rapt in attention. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that I see a certain spark of hope and self-confidence in their face as they watch someone who could look like an uncle or older cousin become the most powerful man on the planet.

While the speech, in their view, drags on (in my view: one of the most nuaunced speeches about our nation I’ve ever heard), the old habits return: the silliness, the talking, the 13-year-old-ness. In short, all the behaviors that make several of them “at risk” students, students who are “underachievers.”

Still, for that moment, it seemed they saw in themselves what I see: potential.

Today was a great day to be a teacher.

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