Time is flying here in Pierre. I’ve already been here for a month! Teaching here is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Everyday is a challenge. Whether it is telling two girls to stop cursing at each other, seeing a first grader draw two people fornicating in their writing journal, or hearing that your basketball player was caught with marijuana, it seems to never stop. Almost all of the kids in my class are IEP students, meaning they have an individualized education program. Many of the students are on some sort of medication—the highest percentage being for ADHD. The focus of the students can sometimes be for only a matter of seconds.
On a positive note, I feel like I am gaining the respect of my class, and getting to know these kids more and more. I keep reminding myself that their home lives consist of little structure, and when they don’t listen to me at times, it’s because they just don’t know have that framework at home. They are just in need of love and a relationship. I have seen that especially with my basketball team. I am an assistant coach for the 8th grade team. Before I started to coach, I thought that these kids would be extremely aggressive and physical on the basketball court. It turned out, I was wrong. They put on this hard, thug-like front, and made me think that they were much tougher than they really are. Many of these kids can be compared metaphorically to eggs. They have this tough shell, but through time and dedication, you can crack their exterior. The head coach of the team is real with them and knows that these Native kids are constantly being yelled at and berated by family members at home and teachers here. It is so hard to find the balance of keeping your cool as a coach when they are not listening and to try to help them become better basketball players. I’d never thought that I would see an eighth grader cry at practice, but it’s been done. Another player ‘quit’ the other day when we were having a tough practice. The coach positively criticized a defensive technique he needed to work on. I walked with him to the locker room and told him how the coach wasn’t putting him on the spot and told him that we were there only to help them become better basketball players. Ultimately it was his decision to quit, I told him, but that I’d see him at practice the next day. He came to the practice, is working hard, and is now acting as a leader for our team.
I found out that the majority of the kids at the school live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota—the poorest county in the United States. You can youtube ‘Pine Ridge’ or look at images of the lifestyle my students call home.