In the Neighborhood

When I became a teacher, it wasn’t for the love of math. In fact, I had only ever taken one math class in college (Calculus 2) because I had to take it in order to finish the Calculus-based Physics track I was in. As I have written about before, my goal as a teacher was not to further the cause of mathematics, but to get into the lives of the students I taught. So, when my wife and I were ready to buy a house this winter, one of the things on my list was to be in one of the neighborhoods that was zoned for my school.

Since moving to Chattanooga in the fall of 2009, we’ve lived as renters in Highland Park, a diverse inner-city neighborhood straddling the fence of gentrification. We moved here because we wanted to know our neighbors, and we didn’t want those neighbors to be just like us. After leaving our mold-infested, slum-lord owned duplex on the “worst corner in the neighborhood” for a two-bedroom closer to the “nice” side, I was accepted into my teacher residency program and eventually, it was time to find a job. I ended up where I wanted to be, in the high school where the kids in my neighborhood went.

At first, I was nervous to disclose where I lived to my students because, let’s face it, teachers aren’t always their students’ favorite people. But as time went on, I began to reveal more about where I lived. I started to recognize students as they walked around the neighborhood in the afternoons, and they began to call my name when they saw me on a weekend run. When I was running late, I often ended up on the city bus many of them rode to school. And when I rode my bike from work, I would pass them as they walked home after school.

Now, when I hear students talk about going to parties or other teenagery activities in Highland Park I always tell them not to come act stupid in my neighborhood. One of my students this year even calls me the “OG” of Highland Park because I’ve had to tell him that so many times. My students know where I live, and I think even if I’m not their favorite teacher, they like and respect that I’m here. I hear it in their voices every time they tell another student who thinks I live in the suburbs. And I like that. I like seeing my students, and I like that they see me.

So when it was time for my wife and I to stop renting and buy a house, I wanted to stay; to put down roots. We thought about moving somewhere more comfortable, somewhere we could get more resale value, somewhere we could get more house or more trees (oh, trees… I miss you). We thought about moving to another one of the neighborhoods zoned for my school, too, but when it came down to it, we love  being in Highland Park and we didn’t want to leave.

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Our house.

I want my students to know that I care about them inside and outside of school, that I care about the state of their school and their communities. I want them to know that I became a teacher for them. That’s why I live in the neighborhood.

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