Street Law Journal

Join Katherine Zellner’s journey through her year teaching Street Law at a local Houston school.

ENTRY 3: Hunger and Opportunity

My third week teaching was the week my students started opening up about their personal lives. This was also the week Mr. L decided to tell the students I owned a small business. One of my students shared with the class that he doesn’t have food at home. He said his mother is rarely home because she is preoccupied with a new significant other. This information concerned me and made me realize that my students have bigger concerns than grades or preparing for mock trial. They have problems outside the classroom that affect their ability to learn in the classroom.

On the bright side, the same student who shared asked me if he could work at my business.  I told him that I have to check with my professor to make sure it is okay and there were no conflicts that would not allow me to hire my student.  My classmate who used to be a teacher, told me about some great places that can help my student get food. My concern is that he is 18 and those programs are for kids. I will look into it and let my student know.

Update on this issue: I told the student about options for getting food. He says he still wants to work to make money. I set up an interview for him to come by and speak with my hiring manager. He has canceled and rescheduled about three times. He doesn’t bring it up anymore. I think I will check in with him to make sure everything is okay.

ENTRY 2: Growing Pains

This past week, I learned how my students react to different forms of information. The school I am teaching at stresses the importance of PowerPoint presentations. While this form of teaching might be good in a college classroom or TED talk, my students are not very attentive when I start flipping through slides. One of the first things I learned was that my students are not fans of long sentences or paragraphs on my presentations. To show their disapproval, they simply put their heads down and sleep. Luckily, Mr. L attends my classes and walks around the classroom to wake up those that have decided to nap. While this has changed the way I create presentations, I have also learned what gets my students talking. Drugs, murder, and sexual assault are a few topics where everyone in class is listening and ready to blurt out information or experiences they have had. In addition, they are full of questions when it comes to topics such as those mentioned.

I am hopeful about their performance during Mock Trial because of their active engagement in class. The students like when I praise them. It seems to get them to want to participate more. They don’t mind shouting the incorrect answer either. I want them to feel comfortable speaking their minds and adding their perspective so I don’t discourage them from responding even if it is the wrong answer. I think if they have a safe space where they are comfortable, they will be more open to learning. We are working on raising their hand when they want to speak but it isn’t going well. I think I will have them stand when they speak if the hand raising doesn’t get better.

Entry 1:

My first week of class was not what I expected. The students each have an opinion and a unique personality. They are loud, excited, and it is a bit of a hassle to get them to calm down. I teach at a high school in Northeast Houston. It is a long drive across Houston to get to my school but it goes by quickly. The area around the school is filled with fast food restaurants, dollar stores, and game rooms. I asked the classroom teacher, Mr. L, what types of jobs the students’ parents have. He said they are usually blue-collar workers and most live at the poverty line. The school, itself, is enclosed by a tall rod iron gate with a security guard at the entrance. The building that I teach in is what looks to me to be a temporary building or “T-Shack”. The classroom has a window unit to keep it cool. The desks are falling apart, creating sharp edges, causing a hazard. Mr. L says the school cannot afford textbooks so he prints out assignments or posts on the board. When I gave the students their textbook, they were excited and one said “finally a real book.” After their first writing assignment I noticed that most of them have issues with spelling and grammar. I will try and add it into the curriculum by having them write more.

I have 14 high school seniors. Half are Hispanic and half are African American. They did not know they were in Street Law until they saw their schedule. They did not choose the class. They were placed in what they thought was philosophy. They seemed excited when I told them we were learning about the law. I’m trying to learn their names while they continue to call me simply “Miss.”