D is a prison inmate that looks like an “original veterano” and he has the essence of a kind and mischievous, but stern, abuelo. He made me laugh so much this past weekend when I facilitated healing workshops.
On the third day he told me he had been working in the kitchen that morning. Sorting apple and other fruits into various bins. As he was rolling the apples into bins, it dawned on him he had never given an apple to a teacher. He said, “teachers didn’t like me, you know.” I was a little troublemaker and I missed a lot of school, so when they saw me, they’d immediately send me to the principle’s office.” He then said, “but you’re the first teacher I want to give an apple to.” He gestured with his index finger for me to wait and with his half gangsta-lean, half grandpa-limp, he walked with a little pep toward where he had sat his things down. He came back toward me holding an apple in his hand, proud and gleaming.
This gesture brought tears to my eyes. Not because it was a gift to me, but because I was seeing in D the young kid who had been alienated and shunned from school. Who was labeled a trouble maker from a young age. Whose dark skin and accent made him the “other.” His path could have been different if just one teacher, one adult, would have seen him. Seen his worth – his caring, humorous and creative essence.
We can’t just love our students when they are behaving and turning in their assignments. We gotta love them when they are deeply pained and broken, too.
Our most misbehaved children, the ones with excessive absences and zeros in the grade book, are the ones who feel the most hurt, broken and marginalized. It’s hard to get them to show up, and when they do, they often times find themselves being shamed and berated by teachers.
We have to love our students despite their hurt and trauma. We don’t have to humiliate them or make them feel inferior in order to hold them to higher expectations. Sometimes all they need is the one teacher, the one adult, that is willing to walk in solidarity with them.
One teacher can break the school-to-prison pipeline for that one kid.