Posts In Category Students
Red Ribbon Week began back in the 80s with the “Just Say ‘No’ to Drugs” campaign. PTA sponsors the themes and week. Students learn the dangerous effects of drugs and wear silly outfits to silly themes like “Tie One On for Drugs” where everyone wore a necktie.
I had just finished the dangers of marijuana PowerPoint when I turned to face my class. This was the point I always dreaded.
“Does anyone have any questions?”
A tall girl in the second row shyly raised her hand, then quickly jerked it down, before raising it again with more confidence.
I motioned to her to ask away.
“I’ve heard of the word before but what is marijuana?”
There is such innocence in that question and I rejoice that I have a thirteen-year old who doesn’t know what marijuana is.
“We’ll be meeting with Steven’s parents this afternoon after school. If you’re available, his parents would like to meet with all the teachers.”
I opened up Steven’s composition notebook to check the composition he’d written this afternoon. In 50 minutes, he’d managed to write 23 words. I responded “will attend”.
The other teachers were already there: both his math teachers, his band teacher, and the science teacher. The math teacher told us that she’d called Steven’s parents after she’d seen a recent test. Scrawled across the page were the letters IDK, I don’t know. The science teacher opened Steven’s science notebook and was relieved to point out that Steven was doing all his science work. The band teacher didn’t have a notebook but was happy to report that Steven was doing well with the flute.
Steven’s parents arrived with Steven in tow. His mother was in charge. She began by apologizing for not attending Meet the Teacher night but was grateful we’d all taken the time to meet with them on a Friday afternoon.
She then let us know that she’d been having problems with Steven’s aggression recently. “He’s so angry” was repeated throughout the meeting. She continued by letting us know that Steven has had aggression problems ever since his last concussion.
His last concussion?
“He’s had four,” his mother informed us. “Two of them were severe enough that he had seizures. One was bad enough that he ended up in a temporary coma.”
I think we were all wondering how they happened. Steven is only 12!
“The last one happened in February 2012.”
Steven’s father nodded in agreement.
“It happened while he was playing a pick-up game of football. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and hit his head on the sidewalk. He had seizures for a while but the MRI says he’s okay now. But he’s been angry ever since.
“The one before that happened when he slipped in a swimming pool. It was just temporary. He had a headache for a couple of days, that’s all. He was nine.
“The one before that happened when he was….” She counted back on her fingers before continuing, “Seven. He slipped in the bathtub but was fine.”
I looked back at Steven’s notebook as I reflected. Steven is a very energetic child, hyperactive even. Surely all these concussions were enough to warrant a 504.
“The first concussion,” she took a deep breath before continuing, “happened when he was five. Steven was raped when he was five. During the attack, he hit his head. He was unconscious so he doesn’t remember much.”
Steven nodded silently as tears slid down his cheeks.
“It was his sister,” his mother continued. “She was eight. Steven was five.”
She stopped to stroke Steven’s head and wipe away a tear.
Steven wiped his face on his sleeve.
“His sister was taken away. She’s been living in a halfway house and receiving therapy for the last six years.”
She took another breath. Steven’s father wrapped his arm around his wife.
“She came home this week. She came home yesterday. Last night, she tried to kill Steven. She was choking him. We called the people and they took her away.”
Steven was crying silently. His mom continued to stroke his hair.
“They’re bringing her back next week. She needs to be with her family, they say. She needs to be socialized before she’s an adult. She’s 15 now.”
Steven turned his back on us.
I looked at the table as I realized we were way over our heads. Steven needs a counselor. ‘Of course, he wrote IDK on his math test. He has more important problems going on right now,’ I thought.
His mother looked at us.
“But it’s no excuse. He needs to focus on his schoolwork. It’s his future.”
We talked with the parents and Steven for another 30 minutes. We made plans. We tried to figure out ways we could work to help Steven.
And my heart breaks every time I think of what Steven has gone through and what he will continue to undergo. No one deserves the kind of life he’s had. What can I do to help him?
William has a head cold. He is oozing snot. His eyes are bloodshot and puffy. Other students back away from him with his sneezing which he can’t quite catch with his hands, sleeves, or kleenex. He snuffles several times a minute. The nurse has just sent him back to class with a note saying “it’s just allergies.”
We’re reading “Hard Times,” part of the Read180 program. Today’s selection deals with a child who was abandoned but learns how to overcome the challenges of life.
William raises his hand, snuffling noisily. He is so proud when he has something to contribute to discussion. He waves even more strongly, making “oh! oh!” noises. Students duck the snot flinging off the ends of his fingers as he tries to catch my attention.
“I’m abandoned! I’m abandoned! My mother abandoned me when I was just a kid!”
Sadly, enough, he’s right. Several years ago, William and his sister, Daisy, after suffering years of neglect, were abandoned by their mother. Court papers say they were found after living on their own in an empty apartment for several days. They live in a foster home with several other foster kids now.
After class, William lingers in the doorway, still snuffling despite the dozens of kleenex stuffed into his pockets.
William has news to share.
“Do you remember Chris?”
“Chris Palmer. He says, ‘hi.’”
“How do you know Chris? He should be almost finished with high school now.”
“He’s a sophomore. He got adopted this weekend. He lived with me at the foster home.”
“Really? How about that. And he got adoped?”
“Yes, ma’am.” William pauses. “I’m for sale, too. Maybe you’ll want to buy me so I can have a real family like Chris.”
My heart breaks for William and Daisy. These poor kids.
It was the end of a very long day when I heard my name being called. My feet hurt but I heard my name called. I turned around and searched the hall. Who had called me?
A group of students broke apart and the earnest face of Jim (he was Jimmy last year in 6th grade) peered out from between shoulders.
“Ms. G!” he called again.
I waited as he made his way to me, waving a paper in the air.
I expected the paper to be a science test. He’s been struggling in science but attended tutorials this morning to bring up his science grade. I began to form words of praise in my head.
“Ms. G! She chose my article! My article is in the paper!”
Last year, Jimmy was a member of my 6th grade Reading Improvement class. I remember asking him about his 5th grade experience as a reader.
“I didn’t read much,” he’d said. “I was a bad kid and ended up in AEP (Alternative Education Placement). Now I want to be a good kid and learn how to read good.” As it turned out, he’d been part of a notorious ring of 5th graders who were nearly arrested for upskirting.
He worked hard last year to be a “good kid.” We’d talk occasionally about his struggles in making wise choices. On his bad days he’d come in the classroom and just lay his head down. He wasn’t receiving much support at home; his parents were too busy divorcing to pay attention.
I don’t know when he took an interest in writing. I know when he took an interest in reading; he’d shared his favorite authors with me. But writing?
And now here he is, one year later, a published author in the school paper.
I’m glowing with pride.
Way to go, Jimmy!
“Hey, Ms. G! Are we taking a test?”
As my 6th period class entered, they discovered that the room was arranged differently from the last time they had attended class. Gone were the friendly groupings of desks; in their place were rows of desks with each desk carefully spaced a foot apart. (No longer were they able to reach their feet out far enough to kick the desk in front of them.)
As I explained the day’s task, they discoverd another change. Instead of the colored pencils, used the day before (and scattered pieces of across the floor), students would be working today in chiaroscuro, shaded in with #2 pencils.
For the first time ever, I’d had to put my class into lockdown. Yesterday had been an awful, horrible, no-good day and I was determined not to have a replay. The final straw had been catching Alex throwing shredded erasers into the hair (and ears!) of his classmates.
Lockdown consists of blessed silence. Instead of working in groups or pairs, students sit in solitary desks and work in silence. On my part, I patrol the classroom like a prison guard. (According to my pedometer, I walked two miles in two periods during lockdown.)
I prefer students to work in pairs or small groups. Reading and writing are already such solitary activities. I believe that the sharing of thoughts and ideas is crucial to learning but… sometimes neither I nor the students are ready for sharing. I take responsibility for their actions, too. After all, I had failed to impress on them the need to stay on task and the importance of learning. But… sometimes the students aren’t ready either. Sometimes they need more guidance or more releasae for their youthful energy than I can provide in my small classroom.
I wish I had more flexibility. I’d be working on project-oriented curriculum if I did. Unfortunately, it’s not in the cards for my district nor in my classroom. I’ve heard so manystudents complaining that they can’t find the relevance of reading and writing in the real world… which amazes me. How can reading and writing not impact daily life?
Meanwhile I circle my classroom like a shark scenting blood in the water. We’re in lockdown.