About three and a half years ago, my dad ran into my seventh grade social studies teacher. Her first question was, “So what penitentiary is that Rodney Jordan in today?”
My dad responded, “My son is a school teacher now.”
Her eyes got real big as she said, “Clearly we are not talking about the same Rodney Jordan.”
My dad assured her, they were.
About a year later, he found himself having the same conversation with one of my friends from back in the day. My old buddy mentioned being in jail on four separate occasions since graduating from high school. Apparently, he was looking for me each time, only to find out that I was in Northern Virginia teaching kids, coaching basketball, and writing books. My dad said the guy was so blown away, he came back at the end of the day just to confirm that they were talking about the same guy.
I must admit, middle school was probably the worst years of my life. I was constantly serving after school detentions, in school detentions, and out-of-school suspensions. I probably spent more time in the principal’s office than I did in my classes. It seemed like my teachers were calling my house every day. Finally, when I was twelve years old, my mother said it was time for me to go. She gave my dad the option of raising me or she was going to send me to an All Boys Home until I was 18 or 21.
When I got older, I learned that many people like my former social studies teacher and my old friend had lost all hope for me. They figured it was only a matter of time before I was sentenced to life in prison or life in the cemetery.
What they didn’t know was that I always had a heart to succeed, I just didn’t know how. I wanted to behave in class but couldn’t figure out how to do that and deal with the pressure of fitting in with the kids around me. I wanted to be an honor roll student but no one cared about my report cards until I started bringing home failing grades in the fourth grade. Somehow, the A’s and B’s I earned between 1st and 3rd grade were overlooked.
I was an angry kid. I didn’t understand why my mom and dad weren’t together. Instead, my mom, siblings, and I lived in a two bedroom duplex with as many as eleven other family members at one time. I hated the fact that we were poor and my mom couldn’t afford to buy us name brand shoes and clothes like the popular kids. As a result, I felt like I had to find a way to make up for what I didn’t have. I had to learn to tell jokes. I was disrespectful to my teachers, only because my friends had me feeling like it was the thing to do.
It wasn’t until I met Mr. Wilson in high school that I realized I was okay, just the way I was. He challenged me to overcome what was around me and work for the life I wanted which is the same message I have for my students today, “If you don’t like your life, start working now to change it.”
While I’m not a celebrity, I have accomplished more than people thought I ever would. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, I have published two books, I’ve been featured in magazine and newspaper articles including the Chicago Tribune, I’ve had a host of television and radio show interviews, one with Sybil Wilkes of the Tom Joyner Morning Show. I was voted the Most Outstanding Teacher for the city of Manassas, at the end of my second and third years of teaching. I have also received nominations for several state and national recognitions as an educator.
As teachers, we never know who is sitting in our classrooms. We never know why children say or do the things they do but it is important to show them love, regardless. Some of our students who present the greatest challenges will turn out better than those who follow all of the rules and complete all of their assignments.
Let us stop worrying about who they will be tomorrow and remember that they are somebody today!
If you enjoyed this blog, you should definitely read my books, Tired of Being Black and From the Heart of a Teacher.