Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Today I hugged a student

There is a cardinal rule against such things, but today I hugged a student.

Nate. His name is Nate. I can't state his last name here, for obvious reasons, but I wanted his first name to be heard (or read, as the case may be).

When I started teaching 9th grade English - late, at the end of September - my long-term sub told me Nate was a loud-mouth, a troublemaker who talked all class long. I came in, ready to face off, to get him under control.

But my experience with Nate turned out to be quite opposite from the sub's, and Nate was doing very well in my class before he suddenly vanished in mid-November. At first, I thought he was sick, and then I received the now-dreaded email from Guidance. Nate was going to be out long-term, and did I have any work he could do from afar? I did, and sent home a few assignments. No rumors flew until last week, when another student - a friend of Nate's - told me he was transferring to another high school because he had been bullied.

I was - and remain - shocked. Nate doesn't seem the type to be on the receiving end of such behavior, but then again, I guess there IS no type when it comes to being bullied. Bullies want a reaction... and reactions grants them the power to bully more.

It turns out Nate (in addition to in-school bullying) had been followed home and harassed to the point where he tried to commit suicide. He told me that he was then institutionalized until quite recently, and his transfer to another local high school was impending.

Nate came in today to return his 9th grade English textbook. I was showing my class a movie, and he crept in under cover of darkness. Without even thinking, I jumped up and hugged him. Our loss is their gain, I told him. He told me about the bullying; it turns out that two of the propagators are students in other classes of mine. I told him the world needs more kids like him, and fewer like them. I really didn't know what to say, except that I would miss him.

And so off went Nate, hopefully to better climes. And not only will I miss him, I will have to face two students who I know contributed to his absence.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teaching 9th graders

Two curious things happened on Monday with my students - 135 9th grade English students (honors, regular, and basic). Something curious happens every day, come to think of it, but Monday's episodes were extra interesting.

I typically arrive at school by 8:30 (classes start at 9:00 - gotta love this late-start high school!), and typically, a pile of students follow me - like a herd - from the hallway into my room. They linger until the first bell rings, chatting and catching up on homework. When the first bell rings, they scurry off to their classes (if they aren't in my first block class that day). During pre-school (preschool?) lingering on Monday, I caught one of my students copying homework from a completed homework worksheet onto his own empty one.

This was the first day back from a week-long holiday... so he had been given PLENTY of time to complete this small project. At the time I noticed the cheating, I was standing next to his desk and chatting with him, and then I looked down. "P.L., are you copying someone's homework?? Right *next* to me? While sitting next to the teacher's DESK???"

He looks up, mouth hanging open, and says, "I didn't think you'd care!" Zowie. My school considers such things to be honor code violations, so naturally I had to tell his history teacher. The history teacher told the principal, the kids got phone calls home, and both the copy-er and the copy-ee got in trouble. The kid who was copying later looked me in the eye and said, "I thought you were a bro, man! Bros always have each other's backs!!" Trust me when I say I didn't know what to say to that... I just laughed out loud.

To end that day, a student from my 8th block class showed up in my 7th block class... except that I didn't notice he wasn't supposed to be in that class. He was sitting off in one corner, chatting (which he normally doesn't do), and I kept asking him to keep it down. Kind of realizing that he wasn't sitting in his normal seat, I kept looking back to where he was supposed to be sitting, but it was occupied by other students. Then, halfway through class, he got up and left - which also didn't seem weird to me. It took me hours to realize he wasn't supposed to be there; another student actually had to point it out to me. All I have to say is, he must really like The House on Mango Street, because that's what we are reading right now and he got to study part of it twice!

Silly kids.