Friday, April 30, 2004

This Wasn't in the Handbook

"Hey, I think this is gonna be my last class."
"You getting your schedule changed?"
"No. I'm getting locked-up. I have to go to court Monday for sentencing. My lawyer said I might get a year."
"Detention facility near Columbus."
"Naw. It's a long time though. I just did forty one days...and that seemed like a year."

Oh boy...this was going to be one of those conversations that was never covered in the Teacher's Handbook.

The student at my desk this morning was one that I'd been keeping my eye on this year. A sixteen year old ninth grader, he was new to our school in September. Always quiet, he didn't seem to have too many friends in class. Although his Ambercrombie-Fitch looks prompted many a crush amongst the female population in our building, his tough don't-mess-with-me attitude, coupled with a steely glare kept most of the girls at bay.

I worry most about the quiet ones, even more so when they are angry. Although I have always been compelled to reach out to the kids who seem troubled, the tragedy at Columbine brought a new sense of urgency and importance to that aspect of teaching.

It is a tricky sort of dance, getting some of these kids to trust you enough to open up.
There are kids who've been starving for attention, that will spill their guts at the very first sign of interest. But others are suspicious. They are usually not the neglected ones, rather they are the boys and girls who've been hurt. They will often watch and listen for a long time, and if they finally do decide to open up, it's just little by little. They test your reaction.
I always consider passing their test a mixed blessing. I become a friend and advisor, and they get to break my heart.

The boy in my classroom today was one of the heartbreakers. I'd just recently begun to piece together his story. He would only give me a snippet here and there. The child of divorced parents, he no longer felt welcome by the step-parent in either household, and was feeling abandoned. He ran away from home several times, and got caught stealing when he was on the road. He was, at this point, considered unruly with a record.

"Do you have a tie and a dress shirt?" I asked.
"Yeah, I've got a suit. I'm going to wear it."
"Good," I smiled "...and be polite. Apologize to the judge. Tell him you want to pay it all back and, most important, don't get matter what. And say thank matter what. It will make a difference. I've known a few judges. Trust me on this."
"Thanks for talking to me." His eyes met mine. " Thanks a lot for the advice."
"So, will you come back to Max Hayes when you get out?"
"I want to."
"Good." I said, as he turned to head out the door. "I'll be thinking about you Monday. I hope things go well in court."
"See you later," he gave me half a smile "unless things go well, then I'll see you sooner."
"Okay," I returned his smile. "We'll talk when you come back."

As I watched him head down the stairs, I wished for a moment that I had a crystal ball.

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