Story booth

A Detroit teacher speaks: The tragic reason why her students don’t always do their homework or come to class on time

Detroit teacher Janine Scott explains what people' don't understand about her students.

When Janine Scott tells people that she teaches in Detroit, she often gets looks of pity.

“You poor thing!” she said people tell her as they make negative comments about the children she works with.

But those people don’t understand her students, she said.

“I ask [my students] things like why are you late, or why didn’t you do your homework or what happened or why didn’t you even come to school?” Scott said.

“And then I’ll get something like well, Miss Scott, I had to get my little brothers and sisters up, and had to feed them and and comb their hair and get them ready for school, had to wait on their bus with them. And my kids will come in third hour. Or they’ll tell me about the drama that happened last night or they’ll tell me about their friend that died in their arms the night before.”

Scott told her story of teaching in the Detroit schools in a story booth outside the School Days storytelling event.

The event, cosponsored by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, was held at the Charles H. Wright Museum last month and featured Detroit parents, educators, and a student telling stories on stage about schools in Detroit.

But the stories on stage were just a start. Chalkbeat is looking to tell many more stories about Detroit parents, students and teachers. The story booth set up by Chalkbeat and the Skillman Foundation in the lobby of the Wright Museum ahead of our event was one way to do this. (Skillman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

When Scott came into the booth, she talked about things her students must endure to get to school at all.  

“All of a sudden that little mediocre C that they get in my class becomes a great grade because in order for them to even navigate through that environment and get to school and learn something, that’s an amazing thing,” Scott said. “See a lot of people don’t even make it that far but my kids do.”

Watch Scott’s story below and if you have a story to tell about Detroit schools — or know someone who does — please let us know.

Detroit Story Booth

This Detroit educator used a sense of community and mentorship to help a student through a personal tragedy

Patrice Wright is committed to being an advocate for her students, she said.

The Michigan State University graduate is a youth worker with Playworks Michigan, an organization that puts AmeriCorps members in schools to teach social skills through physical activities and games.

In her first year working in Detroit schools, Wright said she drew on her own experience at Renaissance High School to help her students.

“Some of the best teachers that I learned how to be a teacher from and how to be a youth worker from are in DPS,” she said. “The hearts of the teachers never change.”

When one of Wright’s students witnessed the violent murder of an immediate family member, the child returned to school the next day, she said.

The student “knew there was somebody there who cared about her, school was that safe space she knew she could come to.”

Wright told her Detroit school story as part of Chalkbeat’s Story Booth series, which began last spring with our storytelling launch event at the Charles H. Wright Museum. If you know someone with a Detroit schools story to tell — a teacher, student parent or anyone else — please let us know.

Watch Patrice’s full story below:

Ask a teacher

What would Detroit teachers change about schools? Plenty! This video offers a glimpse

A new video called "Ideas from Educators" invites Detroit teachers to share suggestions for what they would change about education.

Ask a teacher how to improve education and you’ll get some interesting answers. Among them:

  • Change high school schedules so they’ll be more like college, with classes meeting a few times a week.
  • Get rid of grades.
  • Spend money educating parents as well as their kids.

Those were just some of the ideas Detroit filmmakers Colin Maloney and Dave Salazar heard when they interviewed Detroit-area teachers who work in district and charter schools.

The pair spoke with seven teachers, Maloney said, and included four in a short video called “Ideas From Educators.” The teachers in the video are William Weir from Schulze Elementary School; Molly Tannian from Starr Detroit Academy; Gerrard Allen from University Prep Science & Math, and Rhonda Jackson from Henderson Academy.

“I used to be a teacher down in New Orleans,” Maloney said. “In my experience, there is an abundance of discourse talking about teachers in Detroit and a relative dearth of discourse talking with them.”

Watch the full video here: