Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Thought I Was Here To Stop This...

This was going to be a blog post about how I am sick again with bronchitis-like symptoms and thank God and Cathy Klasek for antibiotics. I was going to write about how just being in the main building in school for 15 minutes and breathing that toxic air made me sick.

I was also going to write about how yesterday I broke up a fight between two of the kids who were going to class in the room next door to me and that I felt bad because one was crying when he found out that his mom was going to be called. He had been in trouble for fighting before and he just looked so young and helpless. I felt awful for not turning a blind eye. Both kids said they were just play fighting, even though they were both all read and bruised looking.

Then I thought that perhaps I'd post a rant about the CRT writing test my 8th graders have to take next week. How I can't read or write or do anything for the 70 and 90 minute writing prompts but stare at kiddos. I was going to compalin that my kids are not on a level playing field and that even though I've been severely thwarted in my efforts to help them learn grammar- which they need for the test- it's now become very clear to them that this is exactly what is needed. So I have a week to get them there. The five paragraph format? No problem. Writing it in proper English with well-developed themes? Not a chance. But if they want to learn to drive and get a license, they have to pass.

Maybe this was an appropriate place to think on paper about how well my 8th graders and I are getting along. How my first hour class asked me yesterday if they could just read for awhile. I said yes, of course. They seem to enjoy getting lost in a novel these days. I'm sick that it took six months to get here, but all of my kids seem to have found a groove with me.

But no. Todays' topic is a kid you'll never hear about again, except perhaps on the six o'clock news one day. A sweet kid that I will name Bobby. Bobby comes to school only sometimes and he always wears the same thing. When he shows up, the red rims of his eyes give away his fatigue. He's a night person, he says. He has fallen asleep in my class a few times and the last time, I walked him over to the In School Suspension office myself. "What are you going to do when I call your mom?", I asked. "What will she think?"
"She'll be sad. She don't need this." He sort of ducked his head.
"Yeah, I can't suppose anybody would. What about your dad?"
"He's not around." His eyes darted almost wildly.
I nodded. I know better than to ask where a parent is. The answer is usually one that breaks the heart- drugged out, absent, jail, dead, gangs.. the list is endless.
Jail. Bobby's dad is in jail.
I did what I always do. I cut him some slack. Maybe others would disagree with me, but you know what? I'm always going to err on the side of believing someone and giving them a chance. My top readers in class right now are two boys that I caught doing some ruly shit and they asked for clemency and got it from me too. Why use a sledge hammer when a nudge will do?
"I'll tell you what. I won't call your mom, but get more sleep at night. Ok?"
"Yes, ma'am."
He was awake the next time. He's a bright kid, Bobby. You'd like him. Quiet, clean cut. Handsome with such a beautiful dark tone to his skin and intelligent eyes. As a 7th grader, he is very popular with the 8th grade girls. Two of my 8th grade girls to be exact.

On Monday he stepped off of the bus to school with some of his friends and took off to a local fast food joint to get some breakfast. Guess they didn't like the breakfast offered by the cafeteria. Automatic suspension in a closed-campus junior high school. Today he stepped foot on campus again. It's probable that he rode the bus to school, hung out all day off campus and only came back to catch a ride home on the same bus. Why his mom wasn't watching him is anyone's guess.

If you weren't aware, that's trespassing and it's illegal. According to school policy, he had to be apprehended for such behavior as coming to school while suspended. And arrested.

So it came to pass that I stood with my mouth open saying his name without realizing it. He looked over at me and looked down. I think he would've crawled into his shoes if he could have. He was handcuffed behind his back and the officer took him into custody and escorted him to the police car.

I was reminded so strikingly of the time I worked in the prison. The guards would wait until class was over to arrest anyone who was going to be arrested because they didn't want to interrupt what I was doing. As long as we were in that classroom, they weren't just felons or numbers or yucky inmates with MRSA and aggressive disorders. They were people and they were my students. One sunny day I came into work after 2 days off and found that a transport was in progress. One of "my students" was in the office, waiting for his ride. Normally, they wore kahkis and polo shirts. This man also wore his long white hair in a neat ponytail down his back. He was very good at English and we had worked very hard on his math skills so that he could get into community college and take correspondence courses. This day he was in belly shackles. That's where they cuff your hands to a chain around your waist that drops to the ground. Your feet are shackled into it too. It makes people walk funny too, sort of a slow, shuffling sound. His hair hadn't been brushed and it was wild and stringy about his head. He wore an orange jumpsuit and flip-flops- a sure sign he had been in isolation. That's what they called "The Hole". I didn't know any of the guards- I was friends only with a few people in the education department as everyone else was very suspicious of teachers- and didn't say hello to anyone. But for a moment I met his eyes. And they looked ashamed.

The same shame I saw on Bobby's face today.

And it broke my heart.

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