Teacher's Desk: Tough Kids

First week back in the classroom. Our new math teacher is fresh out of college and trained by Teach America. Our returning students aren't what you'd find at most high schools. I saw two this year that I hadn’t seen for two years. One of the young men spent the last two years incarcerated. In fact, even though he is eighteen years old, he hasn’t been to school since middle school (except for two days here two years ago) because he spent his high school years locked up. I am almost in shock with the pleasantness of the students. The first week often is filled with fights and disagreements. This year: none. My kind aforementioned thug spent a good hour with me explaining his feelings of isolation as a “blood” amongst a lot of students affiliated with “crips.” We shared our experiences, and if not for the criminal involvement of the gang, sometimes they do some solid citizen stuff, believe it or not. He also shared the differences of the two types of gangs, which honestly was news to me.

His feelings of isolation reminded me of another student at our school. He never went to a high school before because he was home-schooled. He, too, had feelings of isolation because we only have a handful of white students and being in a new school, he didn’t know anyone.

“Hmmm…..” I thought.

While speaking to my friendly thug, I asked if he would watch the other young man’s back because he, too, felt isolated and didn’t have street smarts. He agreed, but told me not to let him know.

Another new student came to class this week and I knew he took meds for a bipolar condition (many of my students do). He looked like a fierce fighter of some sort with his hair in a sumo wrestler style on top of his head, some serious weight, and a piercing look emitting from his eyes. He has to be one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met. Again, he is someone too familiar with the juvenile justice system.

That is why I love these students so much. In any other setting, I’d be like everyone else, probably pretty nervous around these guys, but here, I get to see their humanity and value.

Val, from a previous blog, visited my today. She decided to go ahead and go to college, so she was here getting help. She continues to be androgynous and just the smiliest person ever!

This is going to be a fun and successful school year for everyone. I can feel it in my bones!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in educational leadership and a former candidate to the State Board of Education.