Listening to NPR podcasts is one of the ways I keep my toes in my past American life. In fact, “This American Life” is one of my favorites. I recently listened to a February story about Harper High School in Chicago’s South Side and its culture of violence. 29 students current or former were shot this past year and 8 died. One person in the story said if this happened in most parts of America even after one death there would have been panic followed by mourning followed by hopes it never happened again. At Harper, it has become a way of life.
What caught my attention was the Principal. Principal Leonetta Sanders. I have worked in violent and drug plagued schools. Not to the extent of Principal Sanders, but the traumatic experience as a dean of students came back to me all the same. During one point in the story, a social worker breaks down crying, not because she wasn’t accustomed to the job, but because as she said “You never know where it’s going to come from at any time and you cannot stop it.” That’s exactly how I felt.
What a far cry from the experience most of us have in international schools.
Principal Sanders is a hero to me. In the audio, she often complimented students or even disciplined them with the phrase, “I appreciate you in advance.” Reflecting on this comment, she went on to say one of the hardest things about her work is that you never know if what you did made a difference, made the students do better, made them make good decisions and make something of themselves. You just do the best you can and hope for the best.
Maybe that’s part of the problem. We never get to see that, do we?
Our students are highly transient. Maybe on occasion a famous alumni will come back to give a speech, thanking the school and possibly leaving a grant. Of course recent college grads filter through to see their favorite teachers. But past that, do we really know? Are we able to, like Steve Jobs, hold up that I-Phone and say, “This thing really works and it’s good and it’s going to change your life.” Not exactly. And yet we have to bring that passion, that hope, every day.
Well, I am going out on a limb. Principal Sanders, you ARE making the world better. You ARE making a difference. And I appreciate YOU in advance.