Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 30 2012

Hills and Valleys


“No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Le sighhhhh.  So much easier said then done.  Institute is challenging in such different ways than what I expected.  I knew it would be tough, and I knew it would be overwhelming.  I expected long nights of no sleep and overcrowded, rowdy classes.

In reality, I’ve got a small class of well-behaved kids, I’ve been able to maintain a bed time, lesson planning is tough but not impossible, and I have not (yet) burnt out.

Yesterday was a huge high.  It was my first day lead teaching a full content lesson (versus mini lessons on procedures and such).  My kids did really well.  They asked me questions, they told me when they were confused, they talked about motivations in their own lives after learning about character motivation, and they ALL improved their writing on their “exit ticket” (a daily question which aligns with the objective to check mastery).  At the end of the day, one of them said he was motivated to keep showing up to summer school every morning because he wants to be able to learn more and pass English I.  Goal-oriented, showing growth.  Love it.

This isn’t to say there weren’t speed bumps yesterday.  I always have room for growth, too.  I need to make clearer distinctions between introducing new material, guided practice, and independent practice.  The kids are smart, and I need to give them a chance to walk me through the problems and express more of their own thoughts instead of filling in the answers for them.  This will really help with an overall goal of making them self-directed leaders.

Then came the valley.  I’ve spent a lot of time with one of our students in particular (let’s call her “A”) because I needed to re-proctor an exam for her.  She’s a sweetheart and has been nothing but well-behaved in class, and she’s already showing growth.  This morning, while I was on duty in the cafeteria, A had a run-in with another student.  She has been sitting and eating her breakfast for about 5 minutes when a young man came up and sat kitty-corner across from her.  She said “you know you can’t sit by me,” and he got up and snatched her jelly.  I intervened to tell him to keep his hands to himself and give it back at the same time that A stood up and called for the principal who was walking by.  She told the principal that he was sitting by her when he shouldn’t be and that he had called her an “h-o-e.”

The principal took them both to the office immediately.  Five minutes before my class started,  I hunted down the principal and said what happened?  Will A be in class today?  He told me I wouldn’t have to bother with her anymore, she was gone for good.

Bother?? A??

I was shocked and asked him to explain.  He said he had kicked both students out of summer school.  Then he asked me to give him the adult witness account of what had happened.  “Oh,” he said.  “She was already there?  I thought she was instigating him, because when we got to my office, he wouldn’t talk and she was just trying to get him in trouble by saying he called her names, so I kicked them out. ”  Kicked them out before getting the story from an outside party.  No tolerance.

I started to cry right there in the hallway.  A student with so much potential, gone so quickly.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “she’ll get it in the fall.”  Will she?  She obviously didn’t last year or she wouldn’t be here.  I had to shake off my tears and get to class, where there were constant reminders of what had just happened:  A’s empty seat, the improved paper I was supposed to hand back, her folder decorated with steps to her goal of becoming a social worker.

I needed more information.  How could this happen so rashly?  I found the principal after school and told him I knew he didn’t need to explain himself to me, but I’d really appreciate some extra info because I was confused and upset.  He explained that A had a restraining order against the jelly thief.  No WONDER she said he couldn’t sit by her and then sought the help of the adult in the room who already knew the background (the principal had been informed yesterday of the restraining order).  He explained that the boy already had a referral and had been warned that he’d be kicked out if he got a second.  “Did A already have a warning referral?” I inquired.  “Well, no…,” he stalled, “but she’s a discipline case.  Always wearing big earrings, you know. ”

To hell with tears.  I started sobbing.  Uncontrollably.  Right there in the cafeteria in front of the principal.  Here’s a student I’ve already connected with in this few short days, and she’s being kicked out of school for RESPECTFULLY STANDING UP FOR HERSELF and ASKING FOR HELP in reaction to someone BREAKING A LEGALLY-BINDING RESTRAINING ORDER.  And her big earrings warrant her getting kicked out.

Today was emotional.  Extremely.  I spent a good chunk of time crying, and a good chunk of time wanting to curse the flawed system.  But those actions are just inaction.  Today’s events have strengthened my resolve.  When we talk about fighting mindsets about our children and their potential, I always assumed that was from the outside looking in.  I never expected to face them so readily from someone who is supposed to be a supporter of our kids.

“No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.”  For our kids, yes.  I uphold myself to fight my own archetypes and stereotypes and always strive for understanding.  But for people who don’t believe in our kids?  For people who deny potential before it ever has a chance to develop?  I resolve to blame myself if I don’t stand up and take enough positive action to combat their negative.  I resolve to try to talk some reason into them by showing them how amazing these children are.  And I resolve to argue with them until I’m blue in the face if they refuse to believe.  Understand?

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