Notes on teaching at a school for high-risk students

Photo: Stephen Ramsey/Getty Images

In another life, the windowless structure was a drug store. But in 2005, it reopened as a charter school for high-risk students. It still looked like a drug store, though, with its surveillance cameras and metal detectors. There was no cafeteria, only a microwave and two vending machines — one for sodas, one for snacks. The front parking lot was newly painted with crisp yellow lines but not the gravel lot in the back where the staff parked. The students smoked menthols at the city bus stop, just off school property. No buses stopped here. …

The duty and trauma of watching AAPI violence

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An Asian student shared that she was afraid of talking about race in her essay, fearing that she be ridiculed by her peers, and believing that they would minimalize, dismiss, or even worse, correct her experience and opinion on the matter.

“Social media is killing me,” she said. “I can’t stand watching another video of an elderly Asian getting beaten in broad daylight. It’s triggering me. I keep hoping it’s not my father. And when it’s not, I’m grateful, but then there’s another attack. Every attack could be him or my mother, and I can’t do anything. …

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Whenever I hear or see the term WHITE POWER, my mind wanders back to these types of vintage photos from the civil rights era — white boys in buzz cuts chanting the N-WORD, waving Confederate flags, and demanding that segregation be upheld.

I often wonder, what happened to these boys?

In a Disney+ kind of mindset, we let go of reality and allow ourselves to believe that when the laws changed, these boys — these white boys — changed as well. They saw the errors of their ways, invited the blacks into their churches, businesses, teams, sleepover, and lives. …

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“I’ll let you ask me anything,” I said. “You won’t get in trouble.” We were at Bob Evans and I was drinking coffee but wished it was a beer.

“What’s sex?” my 10-year old son asked.

Ever since my wife’s pregnancy he’s been asking how babies are made. I gave him nuggets or put it off, but I’ve always been hesitant about being honest simply because I was uncomfortable with how to address it. As a father, I’m always hoping not to fuck up, but if I do fuck up, do it in small degrees. When he wanted an anatomy…

Unpacking Mr. Keating’s teaching legacy

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It’s said that your first five years in the classroom is where you learn to be a teacher. In those early years, I mucked my way through the lesson plans, and at the end of the day, beat myself up for my mistakes: rushing a lesson; forgetting an important idea; mixing up the order of the lesson; misspelling a word. I was irrational. I was hypocritical. I looked like a fool.

Years ago, as a new teacher, I struggled with finding my voice and teaching style. After all, my degree was in creative writing, not education. Substitute teaching was supposed…

Turning writing assignments into magazine layouts

A reflection on digital memorials

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Facebook sent a reminder that it was Lucky’s birthday, my boxing instructor whom passed in September 2014. I hate this feature because there are some things I don’t want to be reminded of — like my dead friends’ birthdays. I was overwhelmed while browsing the messages left by his friends, family, and students. His page is a digital memorial, but I don’t leave a message. What do I write? The dead can’t read, but I’d gladly welcome the idea that I am wrong. All of them, including myself, miss him.

After a friend’s wedding in 2010, my girlfriend and I…

The Business of Whiteness in Asian Education

When I first applied to be an English teacher abroad, I was naive, believing that the experiences I was seeing and reading on social media would be my own. Teach all week; play all weekend. I imagined myself trekking through China or South Korea. How could I not when these language schools fawned over my Curriculum Vitae: over ten years of teaching; five-years working with ESL learners; experience with K-12 students — even with special needs. I gave my school my two-week notice. I was going abroad. …

Parenting Through Racism

“He called me Chinese,” my 9-year-old son said. “I was going to tell him I’m Vietnamese, but he did this weird thing with his face. Then he and his friends laughed at me and I forgot.”

“What did you say?” I asked, afraid of his response.


“How do you feel?”

“Sad,” he said. “Is that racism?”

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

When I was my son’s age, I asked my father, “What’s a gook?”

He told me to forget it and move on.

In Cleveland, my father worked at the JoAnn Fabric warehouse, and aside from working on the fabric line, he was the…

Inside the Ole Miss Classroom

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“If you do that, the black students will stop coming to class.”

I was the only Asian instructor in a room filled with white college instructors discussing how they were going to address privilege in the University of Mississippi classroom. Being that we were at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), race — in one way or another — was always on the syllabus. One of the instructors was discussing an in-class exercise based off of the Privilege Walk. All of her students were to be given a list:

  • If your ancestors were forced to come to the United States…

David Tran

Writer. Teacher. MFA from University of Mississippi. Stories in PANK, Fiction Southeast, and bathroom stalls all across America.

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