Why I Teach: Prom

Part of my Why I Teach series.

I taught at Chicago’s Harper High School for 6 years. While I was there, only 6% of my students were reading at grade level and the school was consecutively listed as one of the bottom 3 high schools within the 60 or so high schools that were a part of Chicago Public Schools. Something crazy like 94% of the students were on free and reduced lunch, while 99% of the students were African American. This is a school where 7 ago, This American Life did a special two-part series on the school and surrounding community of West Englewood. It was and still is an extremely challenging situation.

My first year (2001-2) I taught freshman World Studies and it happened to be the year I met Terry.  My second year I taught U.S. History and had many of the same students during their sophomore year, while Terry and I continued to date. My third and fourth years, I became a member of the Construction Technology Academy (a small school within the larger high school) and taught US History as well as Modern World History for upperclassmen (many of whom I had previously had as students) while Terry and I continued to date and eventually got married. The Construction Technology Academy drew 90% boys and so I ended up teaching a large percentage of male students, many of these students I had for all of their social studies classes.

Senior proms are a big deal at high schools in Chicago. Tuxedos are specially made or rented for the boys. Elaborate dresses are created or purchased for the girls. Often, couples outfits will be matching Ballrooms are rented in Chicagoland hotels for the big event and beautifully decorated. Proms also require chaperones, which teachers volunteer for. I went to two of Harpers proms during the first three years I was there by myself, with Terry finding lots of excuses not to go with me. However, after Terry and I had married, he finally acquiesced and decided to go along for the adventure.

I will always treasure that prom. All of my boys, many that I had known since their freshman year, all of them with a few strikes against them, came up to me and Terry during the prom and introduced themselves to him and their dates to me.

I was so proud.


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