As I worked with a colleague on our next topic, Empathy, in our Leading Innovative Change Series through our Tech Tuesday professional learning community (PLC), I reflected back on my own experiences.
To add to my personal Learning Moments Blog Series, a very dear to me student came to mind. After four years teaching and coaching north of Houston, I was ready to move back to the Dallas area closer to family and away from the humidity and bird-sized mosquitos! I found a job on the Irving side of Valley Ranch. As I started the year, a young man (we’ll call him JA), asked me to sign a form for him. I gladly took it and said, “Ok, what is it for,” as it didn’t look like the normal school form for anything. He said, “Oh, my PO.” In my mind, I thought PO. What’s PO. And it dawned on me, Probation Officer. It made me wonder about him. I was still getting to know my students. As I progressed day to day, I watched this young man. I saw pleasantness, courtesy, calmness…I saw love in his eyes. His eyes that were as deep as wells, showed love and kindness. I wondered, Why does this kid have a PO?!”
I learned over time that he has a twin brother that was always getting into trouble and who was not kind in any way. JA being the good brother he is, would always back his brother which got him in trouble as well. JA became one of those students whom I would fight you for, a surrogate son of sorts even though I was not old enough to be his mother. Maybe and little brother. I say this because I did develop the relationship with him that allowed me to stop on the side of the road when I saw him trying to look “hard” with a group of boys he did not belong with to tell him if I ever saw him there again with those boys that I would lead him by the ear to my truck and drive him home to his mama. That got some, “yes ma’ams” out of him. He knew my threats were not empty.
One day, JA, was in a neighboring class and was brought out in the hallway because he was so upset. I joined as I was on conference, the teacher was a friend and it was JA! We learned that he was upset and crying-a 17 year old boy crying at school-because he was caught “slap fighting” and this would be his third strike and he would go back to juvenile detention. On our campus students could not “slap fight,” the act of play hitting and rough-housing, as it would typically turn into a rumble between students.
Oh, well… I wasn’t having that! I marched straight down to the principal’s office and said let me talk to his PO! The principal trying to talk me off the ledge said he would talk with her and explain things, etc. After much debate, I told him I would trust him to handle it. I was skeptical, but he did handle it to my liking. He later told me that he had never had a teacher come in and go to bat for one of the “bad” kids.
That’s just the thing. Yes, JA had been in trouble and yes, he was a teenage boy and “slap fought” in the hallway not remembering that behavior was not allowed. That’s how boys go through their entire life! What a ridiculous thing in which to send a kid back to juvenile detention! Are you kidding me?!
I could empathize with JA. I could understand how being a teenager is hard enough even when you don’t have a brother bringing you down. I have lost touch with JA, but I think about him daily. I wonder how he is. His mom finally separates him and his brother by sending JA to a private school so he could be his true self.
So, I challenge you to see all your students with empathetic eyes; especially the ones whom give you gray hairs and make you rethink your professional decisions. I could have written off JA at the first signature on the PO form like so many others. Make those connections. Grace goes a long way.
Do you have stories to share? Share them in the comments.! I would love to hear of the ways you’ve shown empathy with your students.