She waits after class until everyone is gone, even rolling her eyes at a friend who normally stays pretty close. “I’ll be right there,” she says, languidly lifting her fingers to shoo the other girl away.
Now it’s quiet in the aftermath of the chaotic class period. She dips her head downward, avoiding eye contact. “What is it, Chrissy*?” I ask and then I wait while she finds her voice.
“Is it really ok with you if I sleep in class?” she whispers.
My heart breaks a little. She has been sleeping through large parts of English class for the past two weeks. Not every day, but many. Dark circles linger under her eyes. I know, more or less, what’s happening, and I know she needs the sleep. In my experience, very few students sleep in class when everything is going well, so I’ve already asked her if she wants me to wake her or let her sleep when she nods off. She chose sleep, mostly. But here she is.
I pause, wondering what she is really asking. Is she realizing that the lesson goes on while she sleeps? Is she starting to be aware of what the other students must think? My guess is that she’s all too familiar with those two things. Ah…maybe she’s asking if we’re still ok, if I can still care for this animal part of her.
“Listen,” I say, “I am here to help you be the very best Chrissy that you can be. Some days, that means you need sleep; some days, that means you need to be awake for class. We can work together to figure out when you need what.”
She looks relieved? doubtful? wary?
“You think my job is to teach English.” She nods. “I think my job is to teach you, the whole you. And sometimes you need to sleep.”
“Really?” she asks, wonderingly.
“The whole Chrissy,” I respond and she smiles.
Is this the right decision? I don’t know. She needs to grow into the strong woman she is meant to become. To do that, she needs to read and write and learn. She needs vocabulary to express herself and knowledge to help her make sense of the world. But there’s no growth without sleep and there’s no sleep where she’s staying right now.
“We’ve got this,” I tell her. She wiggles her fingers at me as she heads out the door to join her friend
* Not her real name
I call four homes tonight. Four times I report that their student has lied, has broken the rules, has been rude. With each phone call, with each parent, I talk about wanting to support their child, wanting them to do well. With each phone call, the parents worry:
“My child’s grades have gone down and I don’t know why.”
“Do you think he is spending time with the wrong people?”
“He just doesn’t understand how hard it will be to go to university.”
“I am afraid he has forgotten all the work we did to make his life better.”
My heart breaks a little.
I try to allow each conversation its own space; I try to tell each parent something good about their child; nevertheless, I am calling because I am angry about the lies, angry about the behaviour. I tell the parents, tell myself, that I am calling because I want what is best for each child – I want them to learn more, to engage, to do better – but as I hang up after the last call, I wonder if I have made the right decision. I don’t know. They need to grow into the strong people they are meant to become. To do that, they need to learn. They need to listen to voices that are not their own and find ways to speak truth, not lies, to power. But there’s little growth in anger and they are angry right now.
In fact, one student emails, furious, before bed. They’re probably all mad, but he’s the only one who has written. Yet. My response is fact-based and terse. Yes, I do believe that he lied. Yes, his father did ask about his cell phone in class and no, he’s not managing it well. Or at all, really. I end with a stereotypical teacher phrase: “We will talk about this tomorrow.” I do not try to tell him that I want what is best for him. I’m not sure I know what that is.