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Going Back for More

March 11, 2013
I wore my favorite blue pants, a polka dot shirt and periwinkle shoes. This is in the lobby of the building I camp in.

I wore my favorite blue pants, a polka dot shirt and periwinkle shoes. This is in the lobby of the building in which I currently camp in New Orleans.

On a rainy Monday in New Orleans, I arrived at school at 7:05 in my periwinkle patent leather shoes — a thrift store treasure, with a hot cup of coffee and a perfectly packed lunch. The whole day stretched ahead of me.

First period was incredible. We had only 4 boys who are all very behind on math (9 + 6 is not 16 people). Three of the boys were working and interested and asked me if I was coming back. I felt connected immediately. Then things started to slide. Second was spent in a moldy office (where my “desk” is). Then I left to run to mid-city to submit my HR paperwork. When I returned about 30 minutes later the NOPD van was outside. Not a good sign. I sat in the foyer of the building with an irate mother and 6 students and waited almost an hour until lockdown was over.

I had little to do other than stare at my shoes while waiting for lockdown to be over.

I had little to do other than stare at my shoes while waiting for lockdown to be over.

A student had brought a gun to school and actually got through the front door — the person who normally uses the metal detector wand wasn’t there when he came in late. The kid had a loaded gun in his backpack that he said he needed for protection since his rival gang was following him home after school and messing with him. A girl felt safe enough to “rat him out” which says something about the culture at the school. Something good. The kids all knew. And they called her a rat. But no one seemed to say anything else negative. And that’s positive.

I was still sitting in the foyer staring at my feet when they brought the kid through in cuffs. His life is forever changed.

Then in 8th period, I was shadowing another teacher, and a kid randomly asks me if I know his brother.

I can ask you a question? Where you teach before?

I told him.

You know my brother? You know Devanta?

Yeah. I knew Devanta.

You know what I’m talking about? Devanta? You know? He my brother.

Yes, I know. I know what you’re talking about. I knew him.

The kid lit up. His teeth were shining, but his eyes were old, had seen too much.

How you know Devanta?

He was in my class until he transferred to our West Bank school.

Devanta was murdered this year. Just a couple months ago. I asked the brother if we could talk after class. He found me in the hallway. He started shouting to all his boys that I knew his brother, and soon I was surrounded by 4 boys. I told him I was so sorry to hear about his brother. That it was so terrible that he was killed. That it must be really hard.

It’s straight. It’s straight. Yeah. You knew my brother!

School lunch when I was a kid was a single slice of bologna with mayo and mustard on Iron Kids bread. One zebra cake. One Kool-Aid boxed juice-- preferably Ruby Red-- that my mom kept in the freezer so it was still slushy. Now I eat greens and protein. Boring.

School lunch when I was a kid was a single slice of bologna with mayo and mustard on Iron Kids bread. One zebra cake. One Kool-Aid boxed juice– preferably Ruby Red– that my mom kept in the freezer so it was still slushy. Now I eat greens and protein. Boring.

I shadowed another advisory period at the end of the day. These boys were out of control. A kid who was sleeping earlier was now wide awake and talking incessantly. In the dictionary, the word incessantly has a photo of this kid next to it. And he drummed on the table. For 30 minutes. He was one of 5 boys who clearly ran the show. My brain almost exploded. I get it. I had those kids. I have those kids now. Or I will this week. They’re hard. They know more than us, they have seen more than us, and it’s super super hard to get them to show respect or soften for even a moment. We’re all afraid of them, just a little bit. They have less to lose. They’re also the boys that I will likely love the most. Maybe because they need it. Maybe because I do.

When I cooked dinner alone tonight in New Orleans, I kept turing the faucet off at half mast, like our faucet in Washington, so it didn’t drip. Habits get formed so quickly. I thought to myself how much I needed a hug from Tyler whose arms wrap around me twice or from my cat who always sits on my feet or my lap when I need it the most. And then I packed my lunch for tomorrow to go back for more.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Amie williams permalink
    March 11, 2013 7:54 pm

    I love the shoes! And I love reading your blog, keep the entries coming.

  2. March 11, 2013 8:35 pm

    Those poor kids. You’re one tough cookie. Mine are only 11 and easier to convince to show respect, (although they’re by no means easy). I relate so much to how you describe them. They sound like older versions of many of my students. What’s your secret to earning respect? Building relationships? Time? πŸ™‚

    • March 11, 2013 8:41 pm

      Yes, relationships. That’s the only way. I swear. Until a kid sees you as his big sister, his mom, his auntie, or his grandma pancake booty, he won’t be intrinsically motivated to show respect. And fear based respect is not what I’m after.
      I also think smiling first helps. I try to give a kid the benefit of the doubt before I go after them. Most of the time they haven’t eaten, haven’t been hugged, aren’t feeling loved, or are being bullied. Anger doesn’t come from thin air. Neither does the desire to impress.
      Who knows what they key is, really. Fake it till you make it! πŸ™‚

  3. Claudia G permalink
    March 12, 2013 3:26 am

    Welcome back – I look forward to learning more about these young men with you, and to hear what you learn from each other.

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