(Photo credit: Brenda Clarke)

(Photo credit: Brenda Clarke)

When I tell people what I do, they cringe. Seriously cringe—as though I’ve just pinched them or recounted a dramatic history of medieval bloodletting.

I teach ninth-grade English.

On cue, they are abuzz with stories of memorizing Shakespearean soliloquies and reciting conjugations of irregular verbs. I admit this is only a small part of what I do (the bloodletting, not the recitation of irregular verbs). Predictably, the conversation veers toward the demographic composition of my inner-city charter school and how it must be so difficult to teach English to those children. How it must be impossible to make those students read because their parents probably don’t know who Shakespeare is.

The next question, adamantly, is why. Why would I, a Brown University graduate, subject myself to such a daunting task (the teaching, not the bloodletting)? Why don’t I simply obtain a doctorate and live happily as a college professor among cobblestone walkways and grassy quadrangles? That’s what bookish people like me do, isn’t it? And there has to be something wrong because I’m not already pursuing my Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies like my liberal comrades.

At this juncture, I generally decide whether I should mention that unlike the majority of my Ivy League peers, I received full need-based financial aid to attend school. That in several notable ways, I identify with those students.