Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 13 2011


Today knocked the wind out of me, pretty much all because of this kid. (Here, too!)

He is a very, very bright and very, very troubled young man. He was trying to argue the answer to a math problem with me, and I was up on the board trying to explain away his misunderstanding. We were going back and forth for a little while, and it all seemed fine and friendly. Suddenly, he realized he had lost the argument, and he reverted into this awful, angry place and called me ignorant. I tried to keep it lighthearted and tell him that probably wasn’t the right word choice, and he told me to shut up. I calmly asked him to go to Teacher X’s classroom and come back after class to talk, and he got his stuff and left, announcing that he would go wherever he wanted and wouldn’t go there. I had a kid check where he went and then I called that class to confirm he hadn’t run off, and he hung up the phone on me. Mind you, everything (except the phone call) happened in front of my entire class.

This is far and away the rudest any student has ever been to me. I managed to remain so calm and level-headed for the whole thing that I deserve an award, and I had to promise my class afterward that my apparent peacefulness did not mean I wasn’t angry or that he wouldn’t receive a consequence later (this earned me a round of applause and one boy marveling at my habit of smiling sweetly when furious). But inside I was shocked and horrified and enraged and completely unsure of what to do. Last time he snapped, he came back quickly to apologize. This time, he didn’t come back and didn’t seem sorry. In my entire life, I’m not sure anyone has ever insulted me, told me to shut up, and then stormed away from me. And all this happened because I said the solutions to |x|-4 = 7 are not 11 and -3.

I wrote an office referral (my second of the year!) at lunch, and my assistant principal had the kid in his office soon afterward. My AP met with me to talk about it after school, since the consequences ended up being a lot lighter than they could have been. I was still angry and he understood, but said he was going to tell me something I didn’t want to hear.

Then he started describing my kid and why he’s so angry. My AP listed all the awful things that have happened in the boy’s family, all the trauma he’s been through, and the long series of adults who have mistreated and abandoned him. It wasn’t meant as an excuse, but rather as a backdrop to start talking about the close relationship I have with him, how much he trusts and respects me, and how I’m one of the few people who loves him hard and one of the few who can challenge him intellectually. My AP knows the kid well and had talked to him for awhile after my referral, and he said it was obvious that he’s terrified of how much he’s going to lose in 8 days and that he’s going to shut down and push me away as hard as he can to make the loss a little more bearable. (This is a SUPER common behavior pattern with our kids.) He couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t see a lot more of this behavior as school ends, but he could promise that the boy was intensely, genuinely remorseful for disrespecting me today.

In front of my AP, I started crying about two seconds into that conversation and didn’t stop until it was over.

I saw the kid again at Science Fair tonight. We avoided each other at first, but eventually ended up close enough that I got his attention. I held out my hand to him, and he shook it. Neither of us said a word and we both walked away after, but he spent the rest of the night conveniently ending up wherever I was. Slowly the ice broke and we talked more, and by the end of the evening he and his brother had me laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

I have learned really, really deep lessons this year about what love means and what forgiveness looks like.

3 Responses

  1. Luanne A.

    This sounds like a kid who can’t yet solve the problem of how to react when he’s knocked off center. Never forget that punishment will not help him learn to solve that problem- you’ve got to model how to handle emotions. Good for you for being so even handed in the face of your own “being knocked off center”. Your love and forgiveness is probably the bright spot in the world of lots of those kids!

  2. Wess

    It’s crazy, isn’t it? How the ones we love the most seem to worry so much that our love will run out on them–how they push and resist and try so hard to make sure THEY’re the ones who quit first–when really, inside, we’re just as scared that their love will run out on us.

    Usually you can see bad days as just that–bad days. But when they find new, bigger, more powerful ways to hurt us and our relationship with them, we can’t help but worry that maybe this time is it and that they’re giving up.

    It takes SO much for him to trust you–and also so much for you to trust him right back. Way to go for becoming such a pro with him. Please keep making me cry with these stories about my Brat.

  3. This post made me cry so hard. I’m bawling. Granted, I am running on just 3 hours of sleep. And I am crazy. But still. Very emotional situation that you’re in there.

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