I will call him Luke. He was the only one to show up the first day of my new journalism club in January. I noticed him around campus before. He was kind of small for his age, but I knew he was in fifth grade because of the color of his uniform shirt. He always wore a cross necklace and was extremely polite – trust me, you notice the polite ones – there are not as many as one would hope. As he sat with me in the club, I showed him the school blog I created, ripe for school reporters to bring in the campus news. He was advancing in the school spelling bee later in the week and promised to do some reporting at the event and write the story over the weekend. Next week’s club time would be an edit and publish session. I met his mother afterward and we laughed that he was to be my one and only reporter, but I was happy to have him. My kids made fun of my lame club attendance but mentioned that Luke was a good writer from seeing his work around campus. Sweet.
Later that week, my principal walked up to my desk with a look that I recognized by that point the school year. It said concern and it said serious. Before the Christmas break we became aware of some tagging around the school. Our principal was patient and quiet with the information and waited for someone to slip up. Apparently, that day had arrived. He asked me to call five boys to the front. My heart sank as I realized one of the names included my little school reporter, Luke. The principal called them in one by one and after the investigation, he asked me to call five mothers to come pick up their sons….for good. Apparently, the club of misfits these five started, turned into something inappropriate when they started defacing property and being mean to others. When I called Luke’s mom, she gasped audibly over the line and asked in shock, “does this mean he won’t be able to attend the spelling bee?” I hung up the phone, went into the file room and cried. How does this happen? How does the “good” kid get mixed up in this kind of nonsense?
The campaigning began as teachers heard of the story. Teachers on both campuses asked for special consideration for this kid. Surely, we could find a way to let him stay. He was normally so kind and a good student. He was one of the only ones that fully confessed. He was honest and remorseful. In the lobby of the school, the investigation process took hours. All five boys sat separated under my watch. Three were unemotional. One of those sat by the door with a Cheshire grin enjoying the prospect of going back to his old school and old friends. One went back and forth between acting cool and sobbing. But Luke sat still and quiet, crying like his life had become unraveled before his eyes. This is where at times I can get myself in trouble by stepping in unnecessarily. You will never know when sharing encouragement with a student will be remembered for a lifetime or if it will cause their guard to go up. For better or worse, I will usually say my peace, because in my opinion the unspoken word doesn’t have a shot to make a difference. In thinking back to some of my life lessons when I received encouragement and grace in the face of disappointing behavior, I walked by him, leaned down and said, “This is a really rotten day. The next few are going to be awful also, and I’m sorry for that. But, I want you to remember that you are more than this. There are a lot of people here that believe in you and everything is going to be okay.”
The parents then came and met one by one with the principal. Some walked out angry…entitled. They pulled siblings out of class without an explanation or opportunity for them to say goodbye. Some walked out hopeful. Perhaps they could reapply next year? Luke was the only one that was given the definite chance to start over in the fall. We were all exhausted….sad…..upset….reflective. How do we avoid this if we can in the future? Some even asked, why couldn’t we give him a break? All good kids deserve one, right? But, what if this was his wake up call at the tender age of 11? When the day was over, we all walked out heavier than we came in.
We can speculate the path of protecting and nesting a child vs. letting the consequences come all day long – in the end it’s a guess to what makes a difference. There were the immediate lessons to be learned, however, here are the things I took from the day that I will never question:
*There are a large number of caring people in education, and these people show this love in many different ways – but the desire for our children to grow, learn and be successful is at the forefront of every good school.
*Lessons are sometimes painful for the child and also for the adult. Consequences must come, but compassion and encouragement go a long way when they do.
*You really can find yourself at the midpoint of your life caring deeply for children that aren’t yours or your friends…they are strangers in every way other than the interaction under the roof of a school. Bonds are formed and you find yourself wanting the very best for these little people. Unfortunately, like with your own children, you can control very little in the choices they make along the way. Our hearts soar and ache with these kids as they maneuver this path and figure out how to get it right.
This is just one story, that happened in the span of one day, with one student. The crazy thing is that I have even more stories about amazing kids I met last year, and so does every other person in my school and in schools in this country and worldwide. I have been lucky enough to witness first hand the heart that goes into a day at a school, and it is a beautiful. Even the tough days were beautiful in their own way because, in my opinion, they included just as much love as the others, if not more. There is just as much love in the lesson, and sometimes the lesson hurts. This is the story I wish I could tell the angry person that walks out the door, mumbling “where’s the love in the love and logic policy” when they couldn’t drop off the forgotten band instrument or homework. I could spend hours telling them what I learned last year, and how some students paid a higher price than a deduction on an assignment for their mistakes, yet they still wanted another chance to do better. But my dream is that Luke will tell them…..in a valedictorian speech or by graduating from a top notch college with leadership skills that are evident to those he helps along the way. My hope is that he looks back and tells a story where there was this really bad day, but he paid the consequence, he made a decision to do better…and it made all the difference.