A Follow Up to “How to Care for Students Differently”

The first week is in the books. So far, so good.

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“I can tell already that you are going to make the class very interesting this year,” I said to a student who already shows signs of what I call “slow walking” through assignments. This student is also gearing up to be the class jester. For example, for the first two days, he kept trying to tell me his first name was something other than it is. Finally, I showed him the seating chart with his picture and name and told him he needs to stop doing that. I was calm, cool, and authoritative. He stopped.

Yesterday (Friday), he told me he attended a school in an urban setting before coming here. Now I know he is new to the district. In my district, most of the kids have known each other since kindergarten. The new kids feel they have to make a name for themselves, so this is one red flag I can’t ignore. I thought, “You aren’t making a name for yourself with me.”

I told him I knew the school because I was a substitute there. He said it was amazing. I told him I worked there for a week and refused to go back.

“See, it’s amazing,” he said. Nice.

Rather than let it get to me, and rather than thinking I need to do something to get this kid to like me, I told myself to “put a pin in it” and see what develops. I didn’t tell him I’m probably the nicest teacher he will ever know. I did not try to justify my behavior. Instead, I moved on.

In an interesting plot twist, I had reconnected with a student from both a residential facility and an alternative school just the night before. When I first met him at the residential facility, he was mean. I mean mean. He walked into my classroom, glared at me, told me his name, and said, “Now I’m going to sleep. Don’t bother me.”

He actually had told me his middle name, so I was really confused at first, but I went to the supervisor instead of asking any questions. After all, he said not to bother him.

Less than a week later, he ran away. No, it wasn’t because of me.

That September, I changed schools and was now working at an alternative school. Students lived in either their family’s home or a group home. As I looked at the roster, I saw his name.

“Oh man,” I said aloud. My educational therapist (who had also come from the residential facility) asked me what was up. I told him.

“Well, I’m here now, so you have nothing to worry about.”

When the student arrived, he acknowledged knowing me and the educational therapist (ET) and promptly put his head down. “Oh man,” I thought. My ET just smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up, which led me to wonder how he could be so calm. At that moment, I wanted to be him when I grew up.

By the end of the school year, this student gave me a hug every morning and told me he loved me like a son loves his mother. He also joked with me and told me that he knew he was my favorite son, instead of my actual son. (Note to my son: You’ll always be number one in my life. You knew that though, but I thought I would say it for the record.) 😃

How did that happen? I showed compassion, caring, and respect. He eventually figured out I was “for real” and what happened after was terrific for us both.

A colleague of mine had posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook a few days before. I responded, “Oh, how I miss him!” She told me I should friend him on Facebook, so I did. He accepted my request, and I was over the moon!

The next day, I saw his message on Facebook Messenger: “MRS. HEATHER I MISS U.” That started a conversation. He has a child now who is adorable with a woman I also taught at the residential facility. They both look terrific. Their lives have stabilized.

What I want to say to the young man who is already on a mission to make life difficult for me and his classmates is: “If you think you are the first angry young person to challenge me, you are wrong.” I want to tell him about teaching in alternative education environments, about the desks flipped in my direction, about the time someone tried to jump out of our second-floor window, and the time I was thoroughly cursed out. I want to tell him about the time I had to do an upper bicep assist on a girl because she was about to beat another girl up. So many memories…

Instead, I’m going to keep my friend in mind. I’m going to hope this young man grows up to be a man who can look back, acknowledge mistakes, but say, “I’m good now.” I will do what I can to help him get there. I will care for him differently.

Thank you for reading this post and following Teachers on Fire.

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