It’s been the kind of day for which I deserve an apple.
Got to school early to write a note to a student who is dropping my Creative Writing class because his evenings are full of taking care of his little cousins. Their mother is awol and my student’s mother decided to adopt the little guys (ages 2 & 4) but she works evenings so R. is parenting two little guys every evening this year and can’t keep up with the homework and just cut himself a break by dropping a class. When he told me this in the hallway yesterday I was reacting with my disappointment (the guy is a brilliant writer!) and I don’t think he understood it was disappointment but took it to be anger. I think. Anyhow, I had to write him a note to say that he can change the world with his words, or he can change the world by looking after the people in his community and #respect. I gave it to his period 1 teacher to make sure he gets it. He came by after period 1 all smiles and tears to say thank you. And to have me sign the “drop” form!
Obnoxious Student (OS) comes to class late. Her usual seat by her cronies is full (not for long, one of them was suspended soon after when he flipped the bird at the principal for I don’t even know what) so she had to sit beside this kid who’s just come out of the closet as gay. OS couldn’t even do it for a minute longer so she calls me over, all dripping sincerity and looks deep into my eyes, pats her chest and says her anxiety is getting to her and could she just go out for a breath of air? Good lands. I give her one minute to do a lap around the school and get back to class. She does. When I tell this story to Ms A. (Math teacher) she laughs so hard at the idea that OS would have anxiety of all things she nearly fell off her chair. She had to balance herself on the desk.
C., a student on the autism spectrum, and from a dysfunctional home, comes to school distraught. She’s super easily frustrated. I refuse to cooperate with some of her demands and this puts her nearly over the edge. She takes a book and starts banging herself in the head with it. I tell her, quite firmly, to stop it. She stops (this surprised me!) and puts the book down. I tell her I expect to never see that behaviour again and that she will not hit people including herself in my classroom and there will be absolutely no more of that period and do you understand? She nods. I tell her it’s “manipulative behaviour” and ask if she knows what that means. She nods. I tell her if she will stop to listen so that she understands we will get along fine but she cannot always have her way and she is not to throw a meltdown in my room again ever. She nods. Then we work together on her homework. And it seems to be okay. We’ll see how much, if any, of that carries over into tomorrow.
- Upon reflection I wonder what the balance is between clearly laying out rules and expectations, firmly communicating my expectations, and not giving enough yield, not allowing for the limitations of her personal challenges. Food for thought. But I have no IQ tonight for it.
During a conference with a student about her personal essay I learn that she’s writing about the time she beat the s*** out of her mom. She calls it her “uprising”. She’d been abused and beat up and had had it and she beat up her mom the last time she tried to lay a hand on her. I asked what her relationship with her mom is like now and she says they can talk if they have to but mostly they just avoid each other. I ask if that’s an improvement and she says it is. She wanted to write this out for therapy, just to review it in her mind, how it had come to that. Later in the day there’s an email from Student Services that this girl’s just got a diagnosis of some kind from her psychiatrist and has a school wide plan for dealing with ‘life’ when it gets out of control.
- Incidentally, in that class every kid but one is writing about overcoming trauma for their essay.
In period 3 we were reading a mentor text to study the techniques this author uses to transition from one subtopic to another in a sequential personal narrative. The text was about abuse. K. suddenly stood up, kind of looking woozy, and asked if she could just go. Like, now? And I agreed. I went to find her after a few minutes and she was all rattled and said she just couldn’t read that paper; she couldn’t even be around it; it was just too much and does she have to do that? I assured her she did not and she came back to class but was all edgy and shaking. I have no idea what the backstory is there. After class I ask if she’ll be okay? Did she want to talk to someone? Would she be alright or should I check in on her or make a plan for her safety? She smiles and reassures me she’ll be okay; she’d just had a moment with that text. Alright…… I’m not sure about this even yet.
In another class I noticed a student distracted and looking around with kind of wild eyes. His hands were trembling. We were in the middle of something and we just kept going until there was a break and I called him outside. His eyes spilled over and he was crying because he was remembering his cousin. He’d died just two weeks ago and they’d buried him last week and he missed him. I asked what happened to him: he’d been in a fight and the other guy smashed his cousin’s head against the concrete and he’d gone brain dead so they just pulled the plug. Oh. Well, then. I took him downstairs to be alone in the principal’s office (she was out) until he was okay. He came back to class in about ten minutes and joined us. But he’s totally distracted, smiling too much, offering candy (we had to have a chat about that) to students, can’t find his papers (that binder is a disaster) and he was the first out of the class when the bell rang.
L. has been to class four days this month. She’s been very sick with appointments, she said. Monday I phoned home but the number was wrong and the woman on the other end was a little frustrated: “I don’t have any kids at PACI!” This confused me a bit but okay. Later I figured out that the automatic phone-home-when-kids-are-absent system must have been alerting this woman every time L. missed a class. Poor woman!! Anyhow, I emailed L.’s mother and got no reply but L. showed up in school the next day. I asked her about her phone number. She said she doesn’t live with her parents; she lives with her aunt. I asked for that number and she doesn’t know it. I was sure I didn’t hear correctly. Oh, she said, no, she was going to stay with her Kokum that night. Well, what’s her number; and L. didn’t know it either. So you don’t live with your parents; you don’t know their numbers; you live between your auntie’s and your Kokum’s but you don’t know their numbers either; you don’t have a cell phone. How do your friends get hold of you? She couldn’t answer that. Something is very very fishy here. I gave her a cue card and told her to the get the information and bring it back tomorrow. We’ll see if she comes back.
After school I’m talking to a student and another ELA teacher in the hallway; the student is trying to explain to me which of my books she wants to borrow. “It’s about this lady!” Haha! Okay, I’ll need more than that. She’s laughing and trying to figure out how to explain it to me when thunk! I am hit with a student whose arms are clamped around me – she’s holding on pretty tight and sobbing on my shoulder. B.’s been pretty huggy lately – coming at least once a day, or twice, to give or get a hug. She’s bawling. The girl who’s trying to explain about the book tells me she’ll just find me tomorrow which is fine because I can’t even see past B.’s hair. She’s wracking-sobbing! I finally get her into my room and remind her she was fine an hour ago – she was going to make a statement to the police – so what happened? Oh, it was about her assault on Monday night – she was raped – and she didn’t get a rape kit and she’s so angry and she couldn’t get through the statement and has to finish it tomorrow and she’s going to get her family to go kill the guy and then justice will be served because the police said this could take years to go through the courts and F*** the system and and and. I finally got her talked down just a bit; talked her into not getting her family into trouble because they’ll just get charged for assault; talked her into going to the gym to run on the treadmill until she’s going to drop and then to go home and write it out just as she remembers it but to end with a prayer or one positive thing. And then the announcement came on the there’d be no open gym after school today. She just looked at me and shrugged. Last I saw she was going out for a smoke.
I was going to stay late to call parents about kids who’ve been chronically absent, but you know what? I didn’t. I picked up a bin of journals and came home to have taco salad on the front deck where I have a swing. I’m going to breathe, one breath at a time, swinging my way into the late evening.