He may be right; I may be crazy

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He is late again today. In fact, despite my repeated warnings, he’s been coming to class later and later as the semester nears its end: 30 seconds after the bell rings has become 1 minute, 2 minutes… today it is closer to 5. He tries to slip into his seat when I’m not looking – as if I won’t notice with only ten kids in the class. Then, like most days, a few minutes later he casually saunters up and asks to use the washroom during our reading time. He’s driving me crazy.

The EAs I’ve worked with over the years have told me that I am too slow to respond to these minor transgressions, that I should send kids to the office earlier and more often. I need to be more strict. I hear this. I hear, too, what these kids are asking “How far can I go? What can I get away with? How much does she care?” I care a lot. And I should be strict, but I want to know the why behind the transgression. I’m a sucker for the why.

“I’m worried about you,” I tell him.
“Don’t be,” he shrugs. “It’s not like I miss anything at the beginning of class, anyway.”
I bite my tongue and wait.
“What’d I miss?”
I raise my eyebrows.

See, the truth is, he’s kind of right: he doesn’t miss much content in that first minute, though I pretty much always start on time. We use the beginning of class to connect, to set the tone, to share, and, of course, to talk about books. But he’s not interested in being part of the class, and he doesn’t want me to know him. If he’s late, he doesn’t have to learn about his classmates and he can stay disconnected.

“Why do you care so much about 2 minutes?” He eyes me warily.

I have to think about this. I mean, I knew the answer before he asked, but now I need to answer for him. Why do I care so much about him being in class on time?

“Well…” I hesitate, and my voice trails off. “I’m worried.” Hmm. I already said that. I’m not making a good case for myself. His chin juts forward and up, but his eyes go down. I take a deep breath and the truth tumbles out.

“I know you’re bored. But you’ve got a good brain. And I think you might be bored because you’re not engaged in the work we’re doing, or in school, really. I see you skimming around the edges, cutting corners, breaking little rules to show that you don’t have to do this. That you’re not involved. And I’m worried. Because I want you to be interested in something. I want your brain and your heart, and you’re not sharing either. You think it’s about a few minutes; I think it’s about you learning.”

He’s not impressed. I’ve said shorter versions of this before.
“What are you even talking about? I was, like 2 minutes…”
“5 minutes,” I really can’t help interrupting.
“Ok, 5 minutes late. Like 5 minutes.” He’s shaking his head.
“Today. And yesterday. And last week. And what about tomorrow? And you don’t put your phone away when I ask. And you do the writing I ask for, but you don’t share it. And you read when we’re talking and go to the washroom when we’re reading. You have a lot of ways of making it clear that you are not following the rules, that you aren’t one of us.”

He is quiet. I may be right, but he thinks I’m crazy. I’m asking for something way beyond just following the rules. I’m interested in more than just his compliance, and he knows it. We both wait.

“Do I have to stay after class?” His question is a whisper.
I know how much lunch means to him. I know how he needs his friends, how he needs to move. I know I should be stricter earlier with these minor transgressions. I know that punishment rarely leads to engagement. We appraise each other. I see such potential in him, such possibility. I wonder what he sees in me?


Finally, I sigh. “I guess I don’t know anymore. Can I think about it?”
“Yeah,” he says. And then, as he’s turning around, “Thanks.”

It’s the “thanks” that gets me. I don’t keep him in at lunch. And I hope he’ll be on time tomorrow, but he probably won’t be. He may be right: I may be crazy.

Update, Wednesday morning: And… he was late again today. But he was in a good mood, and he sat down to read without complaint. Baby steps?

 

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Late to class

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I was late to class today. I was so late that the Vice Principal unlocked my classroom door then called up to the English office and asked if I was coming. Yikes!

I rushed downstairs, embarrassed and flustered, and my class greeted me with giddy laughter.

“Miss!” they hooted, “you are LATE!”
“You gonna have to stay after!”
“We gonna write your parents!”
“We’re gonna write an email to you and bcc your parents!”

That last one made me burst out laughing. We just learned about cc and bcc on Friday. My students’ eyes had widened when they realized what bcc meant, how it worked. One boy declared, “Well, that’s just evil,” and I had laughed out loud, but I struggled to find even one example of bcc that my students thought was acceptable use (aka “not evil”).

“I have a perfectly good excuse,” I batted my eyes and looked chastened. “You don’t need to tell my parents,” I paused, “or the principal.”

“I’m gonna email your parents and BCC the principal!” called one perpetually late student. Everyone fell into gales of laughter.

Once we settled into our lesson, my students busily writing about today’s picture prompt, I had a moment to reflect. How do I treat late students? I try to be aware, to remember that sometimes life gets busy for these kids, that English class isn’t always their top priority. Today I got confused. It happens. Lots of things happen.

I know that I am respectful of the almost-never-late student. That’s easy. And I can handle the occasionally late student, but how do I treat my perpetually late students? They mostly come in BIG, swaggering and waving their way into the classroom, disrupting class and (though I hate to admit it) making me angry. I have tried to teach them how to come in small, we’ve even practiced, but change is a struggle. They arrive loud and swaggering anyway, prepared for whatever I throw at them: reminders that they will have to stay after class, public scolding, comments about emailing their parents again. I try to be mindful, I do. In general we do more laughing than shouting in our classroom, but still…

Today I’m wondering what it feels like to be a student rushing to English class, late again, knowing that I will be waiting. Maybe tomorrow I will ask them. Maybe I will remember that my students always have reasons for their behaviour, even when I don’t understand or condone the reasons. Maybe tomorrow I will be just a little more patient.

I think it’s a good thing I was late today. Even if the VP did have to call. And for the record, I do have a good excuse.