August 7, 2013

About A Boy

So. I am usually all indignant about this being my personal space and career or education talk up in this joint.  But.

There was a keynote speaker today and he spoke of education being a calling and telling our stories.  This will be a shocker, I know, but I'm quite cynical.  Okay, not exactly.  I force myself to believe in the good of others, but there are days I think a little Clorox in the gene pool would go a long, long way. I digress.  As an educator, I grow weary of those emotional stories of callings and epiphanies and saving lives.  That's the doubter in me.  Then I remember I have my own story. You see, sometimes the teacher is the student, not the other way around.  

I had never officially done individual conferencing with students.  Sure, I knew my students, but I hadn't formally sat down with them to set goals and talk about their academics.  Last year was the first time I had done so.  Of course, I set out to have the mother of all conferences.  Appropriate time?  Check. Color charts of all prior standardized testing performance?  Check.  Benchmarks testing data?  Check.  Goals chart?  Check.  I got this.  No, I GOT THIS!  Then.

My first conference ever was with a young man we shall call Billy.  Obviously not his real name because I would like to continue to have a job.  So, Billy comes up and I have all my fancy crap out on my desk.  I break out my gold felt-tipped pen (because that was the color I had designated for projecting gains, obviously.  Duh.) and start to talk about all the data gibberish.  I described his somewhat erratic testing performance and then I turned and asked him if he could think of anything that might be causing him to be so inconsistent.  

The most soulful brown eyes looked back at me, filled with tears, and he sat silently.  I asked again.  After a moment, as the eyes couldn't hold any more, he points to third grade.  "That was the year my parents were fighting so bad.  I couldn't think."  Then, as he looks at fifth grade, "My mom found out my dad has a girlfriend, but she didn't want my brother and sister to know.  I don't want them to know either."  Oh. Guess that's why.

After more conversation, I learned this young man was truly the man of the house.  He worked at the family business and helped out with his siblings until after 9 pm at night.  Then he would tackle his homework.  His work ethic at 12 years old waxed the floor with that of many adults I know.  

Did I cry? Why are you even asking that question?  Of course. I cried and I hugged him. I told him it was okay...we would be alright.  I told him his success had nothing to do with my charts (although they were beautiful) and data and anything else.  I told him numbers on paper don't define him.  I told him I didn't care what any of that paper said.  I told him he would rule the world one day if he wanted to.  I told him it was okay to be a kid.  I told him to come to me if he ever needed anything. I told him I knew he was smart.  I told him it was okay, and I meant it.

We had a great year.  I don't know how he did on his testing, and I really don't care.  (Shhh...)  I know that I got to see his smiling face everyday and he was happy.  He made some great friends, and he was loved every single second he was in our building.  He will be amazing and wonderful and successful and all those things we want kids to be...because he already is.

I teach because someone once believed in me.  My high school English teacher, Patsy Barger, wrote a compliment on my theme paper.  She made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could be somebody.  I teach because I want to break cycles and stop bad shit from happening.  I teach because to do anything else would just suck.

So there is my story.  It was nine years into my career, but it was a game-changer.   I see my students differently now.  I always saw more than numbers and data, but now I scratch that surface and pick at those scabs to find out who is really underneath there.  It can be uncomfortable and itchy and hard.  Most things worth doing are.  

I leave you with this from The Breakfast Club.  People are always more than you think...even kids.

Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.

So, that is my story.  No angels got their wings and no puppies or kittens were saved.  Not a big deal, really, but it was a big deal to me.  In the end, that's all that matters...that it mattered to me.

P.S. Kevin Honeycutt was the keynote today.