Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 18 2012

Why I need to know everything

I am learning about gangs. I’m learning which ones are in our neighborhood and which ones are in the city but not near us. I’m learning who uses which colors. I’m learning alternate names and lots of symbolism. Some of it comes of the internet, but mostly our campus security guard is teaching me. He had to get some sort of certification in gang knowledge, which I wish was required for my job too. As our school adds grades each year, we’re getting closer and closer to the time when gangs will be a real thing for our kids. I just want to be ready when that happens.


Last year, we used Burger King occasionally as a reward. One of our most intensely difficult students was on a contract where he could win a Burger King lunch if he hit a certain number of behavior goals. We called it his BK contract, and we surrounded him with BK reminders so he’d remember what he was working toward. Aside from the unhealthy obsession with fast food, no one really thought twice about any of this.


Well, it’s a good thing our kids were too young to know much last year, because it turns out that those letters hold way more symbolism than any of us knew. They’re one of the first things our security guard warned me about, and apparently we would have known better if we’d been even a tiny bit less clueless. We were sending around a really tough kid with a clipboard that said “BK” in big letters, a BK sheet to color in, and we were encouraging him constantly with the promise of BK. As a staff, we also got regular emails about his BK progress. Meanwhile, people are killing each other over those same letters.



2 Responses

  1. I teach sixth graders, and near the end of the last year I started to get to know my students way better as we planned a talent show. I realized that tons of my kids were already in gangs at that point, at 11 and 12 years old. I was told (never confirmed) that one student’s dad wouldn’t let him cut his hair because of the gang, had a gunshot scar because of a gang, etc etc.

    …and I live in rural Arkansas. Super rural. I can’t even imagine kids in inner cities.

  2. Yeah, BK is the Crips. How hard I’m laughing at this is probably a sign that I’m a terrible person.

    My students at my TFA placement used to make up fake gang signs to mess with teachers.

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