I watched the tears stream down his face while his mother continued to abscond him in here broken English.
“I work hard every day for you. Your teachers, they work hard every day for you. Is this what you want? Is this the life you want to lead?”
Eduardo* continued to cry but didn’t say anything.
It was the longest silence I’d heard from him all year.
While his mother continued to tear into him, I looked aorund at the passive faces of Eduardo’s other teachers. It was a familiar scene that has played out many times this year: we set up the meeting, briefly make the parent aware of what’s been going on, and then step back and watch the parent go to work. I can’t tell you how many Spanish conversations I’ve listened to, understanding only because of the unmistakable tones being used.
Eduardo has been one of my biggest problems all year. Although he’s quite intelligent, he’s often content to scrape by with the bare minimum and he’s got quite the attitude.
I admit that part of this is my fault. Especially when I was brand spanking new, I didn’t have the means or the wherewithal to challenge him. He got used to being bored in my class and learned to not respect me. I’ve been paying for that lack of ability all year.
However, over the last month or so, he went from being a nuisance to a major distraction in my class. He started going out with one of my students who got suspended for drugs and the addition of another new student in his class really threw him off.
I assigned him lunch detention and he didn’t go, knowing that he couldn’t get suspended because state testing was going on.
I tried to call home and his parents promised again and again to come up, only to always no-show their appointments. The next day, Eduardo would come in laughing.
“I heard you tried to get my parents to come up.”
Finally, I wrote him up and reccomended that the principal suspend him pending a parent conference. After a three day wait, his mom arrived, leading to the aforementioned crying episode.
When the smoke had cleared, I stepped in and explained to him again what the expectations for school are. I told him that a person of his intelligence could achieve so much more. He sniffled and nodded.
Ever since then, he’s been a model student.
The whole episode told me something: down here, there’s no room for vindication. This kid deserved to get reamed. He deserves to fail the 7th grade. For all the anguish he’s caused others (he bullies another kid sometimes and from time to time deliberately destroyed things in my room just to be spiteful), he had something coming. But in that meeting, watching him cry, I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I didn’t see the bully or the lazy kid or the jerk or the obnoxious loudmouth.
Instead, I just saw a hurting child who just wanted to be liked. Who just wanted his mom’s affection. Who just wanted his teachers to leave him alone. Who made fun of others because there was nothing he himself was proud of.
Down here, there’s no room for getting even. There’s no room for hoping people get what’s coming to them. There’s no room for justice in the way that most of us think of justice. It reminds me of a quote I once heard:
“The beauty of grace is it makes life unfair.”