Mississippi Teacher Corps

Sunday, January 28, 2007

tapeworms, parenting, and kids that break my heart

A few things happened last week that made me want to come home from school and cry, which I did in fact do one day. I had glipses into the personal lives of a couple of my students that just pained me. I feel truly sorry for these kids, and sorry that I don't know how to help them. In summary:

1. One of my students, Tara, was a nightmare at the beginning of the year. She came into class and rarely did work, snapped at other students, and talked back to me. At her worst point, she openly defied me for several days in a row, and when I asked her to go to the office, she stormed out, yelled at me, screamed, "Bitch!" loud enough for the whole class and probably several other classes nearby to hear, and slammed the door. After talking to the guidance counselor that day, I learned that Tara is repeating the seventh grade, is actually doing much better this year than last year (I would hate to be one of her teachers last year!), is coming to school on a regular basis, which is huge for her, and commonly does things like curse at her teachers. She has some kind of messed up family situation: her mom is not in the picture, at least not in any positive way, and the only positive upbringing she receives is from her grandmother.
For reasons that still remain a mystery to me, Tara came into my class one day, maybe two weeks after this incident, and behaved like an angel. She took her notes, asked pertinent questions, answered my questions (correctly!), and did all of her work. She's been great ever since, and even earned my Star Student award one week for her improvements. I'm really proud of her.
One day last week, she came into my room during planning period to ask a question, "Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, my puppy got sick yesterday, and he was throwing up, and when he threw up, this thing came out that looked like a worm. What that is, Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket?" So, we had a little talk about parasites, a topic we covered a few months ago in the ecology unit. I told her that she needed to figure out a way to get her puppy to the vet (I'm really worried about the puppy because if you'll excuse my pessimism, I don't think this will happen). She told me that she'd meant to bring in the worm to show me, because she'd saved it for me, but had accidentally left it at home. My initial response was, "Gross!" but then after I talked to her a little more, she said, "I thought you'd want to see it, and I know Ms. Davis would want to see it." Ms. Davis is the other 7th grade science teacher, and was Tara's teacher last year. So, I had her come with me to talk to Ms. Davis about the worm. Ms. Davis praised Tara for thinking about science outside of school, and suggested that I give her 100 as a homework grade for her efforts. I thought this was a great idea. We asked Tara to bring the worm to school to show us.
A few days later, I snuck out of my homeroom to use the bathroom, and as I was walking back, I saw Tara standing outside my door, holding a glass wrapped in tinfoil. I asked her if the worm was inside, and she said it was, so I asked her to come into my room and show it to me. At this point, Ms. Stewart, another teacher on my hall, yelled at Tara, "Give Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket that cup and then get back over here. I'm still telling the principal what you said to me!" As it turns out, Tara had gone to my classroom with the sample, and when she did not see me in the room, she thought that I was absent for the day, so she went back to Ms. Stewart's classroom and started to dump the water in the cup into the trashcan. Ms. Stewart saw her, demanded to know what was in the cup, and when Tara didn't answer, Ms. Stewart told her to hand over the cup and stop dumping it in the trashcan. Tara lost her temper and told Ms. Stewart, "Shut up talkin' to me!" Ms. Stewart wrote her up, and although when students say things like that to me, they get a slap on the wrist or maybe at worst a few days of in-school suspension, Tara was sent home and suspended. When I spoke to Ms. Stewart about the incident, she said that Tara was rude in her classroom every day, had a bad attitude, and never did her work. In other words, she behaved much the same way she did in my room at the beginning of the year. This incident really upset me because Tara was doing so well, then did something stupid and impulsive that landed her in hot water. Worst yet, this whole incident happened because Tara was being a good science student and asking questions about the things she observed.
I showed all of my other classes the tapeworm and reviewed parasitism for a few minutes. They were all really excited to see a real parasite like that. It made me feel even worse that Tara was sitting at home as I showed the tapeworm to the class.

2. One of my students, Dave, is extremely needy and starved for affection. He often hugs me in the hall, hugs me during class, tries to come into my room when he has another class, etc. He tries to go to his other teachers for hugs, but they all tell him to get away from them. A few times, I've had to stop him because hugs are OK in my book, but putting your arm around my waiste is not, and putting your arm in my arm while walkin down the hall is not. It always struck me as really sad that he is so touchy-feely with me when I write him up for detention all the time and sometimes have to send him out of my room for being disruptive. He's not a good student, and is not well-behaved.
On Friday, I took his class to lunch (I usually take a different class to lunch), and during lunch, we started talking about his family a little bit. He lives in a really bad part of town (hears gunshuts out in the street on a regular basis), and his dad lived nearby until a few weeks ago, when he moved to Atlanta because he felt that the neighborhood was just too dangerous. Dave lives with his mom and some of his siblings, but, "my momma is crazy!" He then told me, "You know, you can't even lie down and watch TV in my house when you're tired. I tried to lie down and watch TV, and I hadn't been there but a minute when my mom yelled from the kitchen, 'Dave, get your butt off the couch and come over here!' and when I didn't get up, she came over to me and said, 'Dave, move your big fat self off that couch and come see what I want!'" Geez. Calling a slightly pudgy kid fat and lazy seems like a great way to build self-esteem in those vulnerable middle school years.
Dave then proceeded to tell me that he wished he could live with me instead of his mom. How do I even respond to something like that? No wonder he comes to me for hugs, no wonder I always have to tell him to stop talking, do his work, etc. etc.
Speaking of parenting, another interesting thing happened the same day. One of my students, Kevin, is a really sweet kid, will do well in class if I keep on him, is really excited and enthusiastic, but has a huge problem with calling out during class. He and one of his friends come to my classroom after school almost every day just to hang out, so I have a pretty good connection with him. I've spoken to his parents a couple of times before. A few days ago, his whole class was out of hand and continually interrupted me while I tried to talk. I've had a lot of problems with the hyperactivity of that class lately, and am trying to correct the students one-by-one. He was a major problem that day, and had been doing the same thing for a few days before, so I called his parents that evening to explain the situation. They thanked me, promised to talk to him right away, and promised that I wouldn't have any more problems with him. He came in the next day with a note from his mother saying that she'd talked to him, and asking me to call her and let her know how he was doing. He was great in class that day. When he came to me after school, I told him so, and he asked if I would tell his mom that he did well. I agreed, and said I'd go ahead and call her right then. So, while he and a few other students hanging out in my room listened (by the way, I'm still floored by the fact that 4 kids chose to spend a FRIDAY afternoon chilling with their teacher!), I made a positive phone call. His mom was very happy and thanked me for what I'd done, and made the comment, "You know, we want to do as much as we can on our end to help all the teachers, because really you're the ones who are mostly raising the kids, and we want to work with you." The parents of my students think that I am raising their kids. To say the least, this responsibility is a little intimidating.

Now playing: Jay-Z- I'm a hustler


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