Too often, when we talk about transformational change we talk about test scores. We talk about turning kids into these academic machines that achieve achieve achieve. We talk about management and big goals and data and a million other things.
Don’t get me wrong- all these things are important. But sometimes, maybe transformational change just means giving a kid a fresh start, restraining judgement, and giving him a chance to be a good person.
Today my second hour was hard at work on their proposal essays so I decided to steal a moment to get ready for third hour. I logged onto my computer and set up the attendance roll when I noticed something peculiar: right in the middle of the grade book, tucked neatly between the row after row of all the semester’s grades sat a brand new name that I hadn’t seen before with an accompanying fresh slate of blanks where grades should be.
In the silence of the classroom, I rolled my eyes and sighed: I had a new student, and in my most challenging class.
Students coming and going here at my school isn’t a new phenomena. I teach a culturally transient population and so far this year I’ve had about 10% of my students leave for other schools. Sometimes they leave to go to another school in Oklahoma City. Sometimes they move to a different state. And sometimes they head back to Mexico. Even so, I frequently have new students enrolling to fill in the gaps, although to be completely honest this makes for quite a challenge.
Like I said, 3rd hour is my most challenging class and I wasn’t too excited about having another student in their to get swept up into the madness. However, this is TFA: we take what’s coming and we shoulder on.
When 3rd hour started, my new student walked up to me and handed me his schedule. He sported a buzzed haircut, rolled up long johns, and a deep scowl.
“Are you Robert?”
“Alright Robert, well I’m Mr. Goodier. Go ahead and have a seat there and we’ll get you started up.”
I spent the next few minutes dealing with the chaos that is the changing of classes: kids trying to sneak out of my class, Ms. K’s kids sneaking into mine, passing back papers, etc. I didn’t pay Robert much mind until a couple of minutes later when I heard him growl at another student, “Yeah, well I’m half mexican, so shut up about it.”
At this point, I was terrified. Just last week I lost a gangbanging drug dealer because he got busted. Now I’ve got another hardened, streetwise kid coming in? And what happens when the first one comes back? And this kid’s already picking fights?
In the last minute before class started I stepped outside of my room to talk to the other teachers on my team to see what information they might have on him. I saw the geography teacher on my team herding stragglers into class and made conversation.
“Hey, have you had Robert yet?”
“Yeah, I just had him. He wrote this for me since we’re just reviewing today.”
“Gotcha. Mind if I take a look at that?”
“Not at all, I just finished it.”
I took the paper from the other teacher and read it as I walked back to my classroom. The piece was entitled, “My Autobiography”. I won’t type up the whole thing here but one paragprah did really stick out:
“Most people look at me and see an overgrown bully that’s going to push you around. But I’m not. And I might look like a bully, but I’m not. I can’t make that many friends because of how I look.”
I’d almost written him off, but he was perfect for me today. He was nice to others, he worked hard, and he showed a sense of maturity that many of his peers lack. After school today, I’m going to call his home and let his family know that he’s a good kid and that he’s going to do great things in my class. I was so close to writing him off right away, but I have to be honest- I can’t wait to teach this kid.