A Teacher Changed Her Life. Now, She Tries To Do The Same For Her Garland Students

A teacher changed the life of SMU alumna Jean Greenidge and now she tries to do the same for her Garland students.

Jeanie Greenidge

As a teenager, Jeanie Greenidge was homeless and hopeless – until a teacher saved her life.

Today, she teaches at O’Banion Middle School in Garland, where she coordinates a program for at-risk kids called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

“I saw that as an opportunity to create significant change in the lives of my students and their families,” she says, “to help them learn to keep all of the doors open.”

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Why I Teach

The Visibility Factor

From the Spring 2014 edition of Teaching Tolerance

By Jeanie Greenidge

It is 1979. I am 17, and I am lost.

I have left school, returned to school, excelled at school, failed at school. I change cities to get a new start. I roam from one relative’s house to another. I see social workers and psychologists. My contemporaries are moving on smoothly and advancing in their courses of study. My own life, however, is in turmoil and beyond my control. I feel weightless, as though I have no core. I’m disconnected with no strength, nothing that gives me a sense of attachment to anything. I fade in and out of my own life—skipping school for 33 straight days, hiding out in the closet of my bedroom, waiting for my widowed dad to leave the house so I can run the streets.

I am invisible to the adults in my life. No one sees me. No one. This bothers me unless I am high—then nothing bothers me. 

Then, I wander into the “drama pit” at McNally High School in Edmonton, Alberta. A teacher there sees me—she really sees me. Theater gives me the chance to express my interior demons. At the same time, I find a home with a foster family who holds me tight to them, and things begin looking up. At school, my drama teacher cares for me, cares for all of us. That teacher is my advocate. During a school open house, my dad says to her, “Jeanie is so wild! I wish she would settle down.” My drama teacher replies, “She’s a great student. Jean’s doing well.” I am elated.

Until that night, I cannot remember an adult speaking positively to me or about me in a decade or more. When she did this, she went beyond kindness; she made me visible. When I became visible, I began to hope. When she gave me hope, she saved my life.

There were many other times this teacher gave me hope about the adults in my life. When I asked her to hold my $3.35 while I went on stage, and forgot to get it from her at the end of the school day, she came to my house that evening to return it. That’s the effort that’s required to be a good teacher. That’s the model.

I was inspired to become a teacher.

I am the Advancement Via Individual Determination teacher at my school. AVID is a college readiness system that helps students who come from households in poverty. Many of my students consider me their “AVID mother.” I care for and support my students by reaching out to discover who they are—their interests, their home situations, their hopes and dreams for the future.

Many students feel like they are disappearing from their own lives. Stripped of all power and in pain, they feel that their lives are beyond their control. My first priority as their teacher is to see them. 

Read the full essay.