I am full to brimming for things I want to write about. Since Thursday – graduation day, I have been running through my mind reflections I wish to put down in blog posts. There’s going to be a slew about graduation itself but since I decided to have planting day the day after I’d be out all night after graduation, I have more stories to tell. One simply needs to be written today because it’s resting uneasy with me and writing it out always helps me understand.
We started a school garden last year and along with one other very important entity we also team up with a community group. They run the community gardens in our city and are doing amazing things. I was working with a woman – Ms. O. and a student that works with the organization and is a twice over student of mine. This student – E – is an odd one to define. I love him to death but he makes a lot of excuses for the fact that he gets picky and choosy about which classes are necessary for him. He skips, he recently lost it with a teacher and got suspended. He struggles with a lot but isn’t reaching his full potential. E. texted me – he has my number from last summer when he was our connection to the organization to help keep our garden going over the summer.
Because of that text Ms. O. found out he was just coming into school at 10:30. Her and I began to talk and this is where I stepped in it – I said He’s been coming in a lot lately. I only know of one other instance actually. Then I said “I’m a little worried about him.” Out of a general understanding that he may be doing “ok” and may graduate, even on time but that he isn’t pushing himself and he’s pushing back a lot. I really should be much more careful about what I say and how I say it.
When he got there, I didn’t hear the exact conversation but Ms. O. would not let him plant and he was possibly going to get suspended from work with the organization. (They write grants so they can pay for stipends for students.) E was very irrationally angry and closed down saying if he gets suspended from work he’ll stop coming to school. I felt so uncomfortable in the situation. My instinct was to help my student out, ease his pain, help him be understood. I also tried to reason with him and toe the “live up to your potential” line and he was not in a place where he could hear it. The fact is he often is not.
Moments later after I had sent E to the library I spoke with Ms. O. who was upset and angry but in control of herself. She did say the things she said next rather loudly, however. I am going to summarize what she said: No excuses he is no doing well. The group he is in is all about leadership. She explained she has had him at her house doing some work and paying him for it. She said he had to work harder because this was the real world, we all have problems. She mentioned herself and her husband and mentioned they went through their struggles. She said of course he is going to have struggles, he’s poor and Puerto Rican. He’s always going to be PR and there will always be people who will judge him for that but he doesn’t have to always be poor. I went over his absences for her, at this point I had the official “look up” so I had accurate facts. He had in some classes 28 abs for the year and she said: “That’s a whole month of school, what is he going to have to do summer school?” I said he has done attendance buy back I have an image of his paperwork. E had shown it to me and I took pics of it on my phone. She didn’t understand the concept and launched into an opinion. The background before I give it: Ms. O. is a black woman who has dedicated her time and a lot of her life that I know about to making kids in our defunct city into leaders. Her focus is on social justice and on community improvement in a really tough town. She also says it like it is. She’s an educator and those of us who truly are always have to teach. What she said next, which was not directed at me, although I’m sure she meant to get me thinking. And it did. “This is what makes me angry about this school and it’s from the white teachers. They don’t push these kids, they give them every out and expect so little from them.”
I believe as a general statement she has a point. We may say: “These kids have it so hard.” These kids these kids…but do we think these kids also can do exactly the same level as other kids? No. It’s also a debate between tough love and being gentle. Too gentle?
I have more thinking to do on this matter but that altercation- and the fact that a pitch fork went missing…yeah…that happened…cast a dark cloud over the day. One thing I never like is when another person’s situation involves and changes my relationship with a student. However, if I am going to acknowledge the dark parts of the day I am obligated to pay attention to the wonderful ones as well!
I’m so proud of this garden!!