Sunday, May 30, 2010


I have had more self-imposed breaks from writing since I came back than ever before. I have this rule for myself that if something particularly controversial comes along, I will take a mental break before I write about it. This protects everyone involved from rash words which have a tendency to come out in haste during the most explosive moments in life.

On Thursday something happened with one of my students that made me question my entire approach all year long. There's no other way to explain it (trust me, I've spent the last several days trying) than to say that one of my students absolutely and completely freaked out.

What you need to know:
Personality - sweet, quiet, insecure (she is a little bit bigger than my other girls, hates gym, and always wears a large baggy sweater), always respectful, always does what she is told, slightly lazy (does the bare minimum to get by).
Back story - On the very first day day of school I asked my students to work oh an all-about-me type of book to get them started with writing. One of the requirements was to write about their future goals in regards to occupation. As I watched my student stare blankly at the paper I came to sit next to her and we started to talk and brainstorm things that she liked and how those things could translate into different careers. As I poked and prodded I found that her goals simply did not exist. She was not trying to be obstinate, she just simply didn't care about anything except sleep and TV. It worried me (as did several of the things that I noticed throughout the first week, like reports of her penchant for missing school...alllll the time) so I referred her to social work. A week later she was seen, but she didn't claim to have any real life worries, so she was not picked up on the case load.

*While never becoming more motivated, my student stopped missing school this year. She also opened up to me on numerous occasions, talking to me about her family, her birthday party, and even bringing me pozole (my favorite) after week had a conversation about it one day. She did not, however, ever become more open or confident in herself and so on Tuesday, May 25 when we were asked to make social work recommendations for the middle school, I again put her name on the list.*

Thursday, May 27 (one week before the end of the school year)
I get a call in the office 2 minutes after the students enter that my girl student is in the office with her mother and she refuses to come to class. The assistant principal came to my class to cover for me as I went to the office to translate/sort things out. I walked my student (sobbing) and her mom into the principal's office and we began to talk. Her mom spouted some story about how my student was upset with her sister from an argument that they had the night before and my student wasn't saying a thing. I didn't buy that as the issue because the sisters never really get along. I told my student, "___________, your mom did the right thing by bringing you to school...and now, she is going to leave." Mom stood up (still crying about her daughter's anguish) and with the principal's help, was shoved out the door while daughter tried frantically to follow. Then, to make a long story short, my child became a different person. Between hysterical sobs she adopted a hideous speech pattern (one that I have never heard from her and could never believe he capable of) accusing my principal of "talking smack" and explaining that she hated school, has always hated school, found nothing redeeming in it EVER, and would not be coming back. Then, she demanded that we call her mother so that she could go home. Her responses to my principal, while totally illogical and said in the heat of passion, were little windows into a secret side of my student. She said to my principal at one point that she didn't need an education, that she didn't care who she was hurting by acting this way, that she's rather be in juvy than at school, and that nobody knew about her or her life and that we didn't care about her. It was at that point that tears starting streaming down my face and I had to walk out.

I had to go pick up my students from Gym and when she refused to follow me, I left her there, walking away from someone who I didn't know...who I haven't known for an entire year. It took THREE truancy officers to get her to class 3 hours later and I felt sick to my stomach as they stood outside my room watching to see if she would bolt. But she didn't...

Perhaps the scariest thing of all is that, upon seconds of returning, she was back to her "normal" self. She was smiling with friends, answering questions in class, even talking to me as if nothing had happened. She showed up on Friday the exact same way, choosing to work one on one with me during her math test. I rolled along with it, because I wasn't sure what to do. In the back of my mind though, I couldn't help but think of the secret person lurking inside my girl, and it scares me that I don't know how to free her.

The one positive thing to come out of possibly the most stressful situation of my teaching career thus far, is that I've changed my ideas for my end-of-the-year student gift. I'm going to dial it back down to mean something more for us. I know each of my students on a personal level and I have a good idea of the struggles that each of them will face as they go to middle school. This weekend, I've chosen to write a letter to each of my students, extolling their strengths and providing the advice that I believe will make them the most successful once they leave my doors, and therefor my guidance, this Friday.

1 comment:

  1. God, what a scary thing for you and for her - I wonder if she recognizes how different this was than her usual self? I'm glad she was able to get it back together and I'm glad you'd already referred her to social work; boy, does it sound like she needs it. Although I know how heartbreaking it is to feel like you suddenly don't know a kid at ALL when you thought you knew them so well, at least you knew that something was going on that she'd need help with. And I believe that part of the reason she was able to act like her usual self in class is because you've made it safe for her to be there and be happy.

    I think the letters are a great idea - I do notes based on strengths each year for my kids, and they really value them. Next year maybe I'll add the advice bit too.