At the beginning of the school year, a year ago, I remember being in a meeting and for some reason the message shifted to students, but not in a positive way. It was clearly stated, “I’m going to do everything in my power to get those (last name withheld) boys out of this school.” The crowd of teachers erupted into applause. In that one statement, our administrator basically put a target on the back of these two young men for every teacher that they would encounter.
I knew the two boys very well. Both were african american at-risk students. Both had family situations that no one cared to understand. Both were actually brilliant thinkers who were bored and disengaged. There is one more commonality between the two. They were cousins and were related to me by marriage. No one knew.
The first incident happened right outside my door. I hear a door slam and a teacher yell to “get out.” I saw this teacher later who commented, “I can’t wait for the day when he gets stopped by the cops and they beat the crap out of him.”
Two things happened…
- I begged to have him put in my class. The counselor asked me, “Are you sure about this?”
- I asked for the other boy as well. I never looked back.
When they got to my room, it wasn’t easy. It was downright difficult. I had them 5th period. By the time that they got to me, they had been beat down all day. That was their reality, in addition to their home life.
To say that I went above and beyond is an understatement. We had some amazing days learning and some that were not so amazing. However, their intentions were like any kid. They wanted to learn and they wanted someone who cared. My room became a safe place as I would see them often. However, it takes more than one…it takes a village. Remember the target?
The young man who fell victim to the “police beating” statement would go on to quit school 2 months later.
The second one will graduate next year.
Every now and then, I see the one that quit in town. He is working part time, but lacking his HS diploma further insures that his home situation will remain. There is a deeply embedded cycle.
I think that the lesson here is obvious.
As educators, it is our duty to teach without judging, reach without prejudice and support without hesitation. We don’t get to choose our children. We owe that to them all.
This was our failure.
I am no longer that school.