Today after soccer practice, I’m going to drive to the local shelter. There, I am going to pick up two of my students and drive them home with me. They are going to stay with me for the next few days. After that, I don’t know what will happen to them.
The two students are cousins and they both rank among my favorite kids. Eric* is in my first hour. He’s soft-spoken, kind, and friendly. Although he struggles with his English and subsequently in my class, he works hard and has never been anything but respectful. Alan* is in my second hour. He is one of the most mature students I have. Early in the school year, I held him after class after he talked back to me. In that meeting, I told him that if he would respect me like a man, I’d treat him the same way. Ever since, we’ve had a great relationship. He’s one of two students I have that can hold his own in a conversation about music- he often comes in with new recommendations that I sincerely enjoy. That being said, he is also a notorious pot smoker and many days I find myself peering into his bloodshot eyes wondering if he pulled a wake & bake before coming to school.
Despite both of their struggles, both guys are phenomenal kids and if everyone in my class was like them then I’d never go home frustrated. Even though they both face tough situations at home, they routinely display the type of grit and determination that will serve them well later on in life, provided that the streets and the system don’t take it out of them first.
I’ve actually been meaning to blog about Eric for a long time. His father was murdered in a brothel several years ago. Whenever we use computers in class, I inevitably catch him looking up the obituary on Google or looking at pictures of his dad’s mugshot. One day, he came into my class first hour before anyone else got there.
“Mister Goodier, I’m sad today.”
“Eric, why’s that?”
“It’s the anniversary of my dad’s death.”
What am I supposed to say to that? I did the best I could, but a bachelor’s degree in English and History doesn’t teach you how to deal with this kind of situation.
At the beginning of the semester, I passed out index cards to my kids. On it, I asked them a series of questions. The last one was “who is the person who will be most proud of you when you succeed and what is their number?”
Most people wrote down their parents.
Some wrote down their grandparents, aunts, or uncles.
A few wrote down ministers, coaches, or community members.
Eric wrote “Mr. Goodier cares.”
This last weekend, someone overdosed at Eric and Alan’s home. Consequently, they spent the weekend at the aforementioned shelter in the care of the state. I didn’t find out about it until this today when Eric glumly told me that he’d be moving schools tomorrow or Friday. When I asked him why, he lifelessly told me the story, his voice hollow with sadness.
During lunch, I ran into one of the school counselors. Her son plays baseball for TCU so we have a great relationship. I told her about the situation and she gave me the number of the shelter. The shelter gave me the number of the caseworker. The caseworker was wonderful and is going to work with me to help the boys out. As far as tonight goes, I’m going to take them with me while everything gets figured out.
I don’t know what to do, but I’m going to do everything I can to give them a sense of normalcy. For as long as they need to, they’re welcome to stay with me. I look at them and I see so much potential, real potential. Alan especially- the kid is so smart. With his combination of maturity, intelligence, and grit, I’ve got no doubt at all that he’s got a bright future. I can also see him doing hard drugs in high school, starting a family way too young, or in jail for a couple of dumb decisions. We’re going to fight to keep that from happening.
Many detractors of TFA talk derisively about the Savior Mentality that many corps members bring with them into their community. While I wholeheartedly agree that this mindset is condescending, unhelpful, and destructive, I think it is also important to distinguish between this mentality and a true calling to change someone’s life.
I couldn’t tell you why, but something about these kids just rubs me the right way. I adore them. I think they’re great. I care about them. I want to see the best for them. And I’m willing to fight and struggle and cry and advocate to see that they are taken care of.