Maleeka’s new English teacher Ms. Saunders is new to the school. It is implied that she is working for some sort of program similar to Teach For America, and that she has money and a more lucrative job waiting for her when she is finished with McLenton Middle School. Miss Saunders has what sounds like either vitiligo or a large scar on her face causing irregular coloring. Ms. Saunders is confident; Ms. Saunders cares for the students deeply despite their reluctance to give her the time of day. Ms. Saunders references times in her life where she was faced with questions of identity, and attempts to use her own experiences to help her students to use their identities for good and for confidence in themselves. She urges students to be proud of themselves. Ms. Saunders sees Maleeka’s potential and takes a special interest in her despite Maleeka’s reluctance. The student that gives Ms. Saunders the hardest time is also Maleeka’s bully Charlese Jones. She continues to try and reach out to Charlese, and refuses to allow her to fail. She sees potential in Char that Char simply cannot see, and never responds too. Maleeka and Ms. Saunders develop a positive relationship through an assignment that was given to Maleeka, the journal entries from the perspective of a slave girl.
Locomotion By Jacqueline Woodson, Select Poems
“Commercial Break” (pages 12-13)
In this poem, the main character Lonnie, a young Black orphan living in foster care, describes the white-washed society he sees on television and in the teachers in his school. His teacher, a white woman named Ms. Marcus, is Lonnie’s absolute favorite teacher. She gets him to love poetry and to use it as a means to express his grief over losing his parents in a deadly fire, and his sister to another foster home separate from his own. In this poem, he describes her as being out of touch with him and his fellow Black classmates. He essentially describes her as a white woman who has no concept of racial adversity since she is of a white-normative society and upbringing. Maleeka, and Char, and the other students often feel this way about Miss Saunders because she has expensive clothes, and after a few years she will be able to return to her cushy job making much more money than she does as a teacher if she so pleases. The students see her as wealthy and therefore not being able to relate to them even though she herself has faced quite a lot of adversity due to her pigmented skin disorder or scar on her face.
I think that it is important for students to be able to relate to their teachers. There are many schools of thought on how much is appropriate or necessary to share with students regarding your personal life. I have found that the more my students know about my life, the more they feel they can trust me. I am constantly sharing examples from my own life that I feel would be relevant to informing their connections with text. I try to use my experiences to “break the ice,” or help bridge the gap between real life and books.This poem would help students to connect better with their own teachers as well. In The Skin I’m In, Miss Saunders has been made fun of just as much as Maleeka for something physical and out of their control. Maleeka and the students harp on the fact that she has lots of money rather than focusing on something that could connect them. They are fully aware of what Miss Saunders has faced, but choose something different to focus on. This coupled with the poem about Lonnie’s teacher, could help students to see that teachers work very hard to help them improve their situations. Just because some of your teachers may have a different story than you does not mean they can't help you to understand something about yourself. When students can trust their teachers, they let them in to help.
“All of a Sudden, The Poem” (page 53-54)
Here, Lonnie describes a poetry class where the students begin to mock another student’s idea about something metaphorical and deep. The class ends up taking the mockery too far, and Ms. Marcus becomes fed up, and with pain in her eyes and a calm voice, she tells the students it is time for math. Ms. Saunders puts forth a lot of effort to try and motivate Char but to no avail. Rather, she receives quite a bit of flack from Char’s older sister, her legal guardian. In the poem, Lonnie sees how frustrated she is that the class turned something beautiful and constructive into a big joke that no one could come back from. He identifies with her, because he loves poetry, her, and her class. This poem highlights the feelings of trying your best and trying lots of new strategies to repair problems, and watching none of them work, and your efforts crash and burn.
This can complement “Commercial Break,” further deepening the relationship between teacher and student. This poem can also be used to help students see that they have all felt frustrated due to failure. Self esteem is so fragile in middle school, and sometimes small failures can deeply dissuade students from remaining engaged in class. It is important for our students to realize that this is a common feeling, and that hard work can pay off a bit, especially with help from their peers.