Thursday, October 14, 2010

ode to the bre'fas' club

Every once in a while a student or a group of students comes along that you have to give a nickname to so that you don't find yourself calling them what you REALLY want to call them.  I had a "Sweet Pea" several years back - he was a 17-year old 8th grader with tattoos on both forearms.  And the past few years or so, I've had the "Breakfast Club".   

I had 3 of them as sixth graders.  They kept me on my toes.  As seventh graders, they really came into their own.  They picked up a couple of extra members and really just fed off of each other's misbehavior and poor choices.  It was the "perfect storm" of unmotivated, disruptive, apathetic kids.  As far as teachers - they misbehaved in your class if they liked you and they surely misbehaved if they didn't like you.  I had them for first block last year, and sometimes it was a very long period. 

The name "Breakfast Club" came about because I had them first thing in the morning, and sometimes - especially at the end of the year - I bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and fed them breakfast before we attempted anything else.  (Notice the word - attempted.)  Lower expectations and immediate reinforcement were two of the tools in my survival toolbox.  Sometimes they worked, other times....

Somewhere towards the end of last year, we kind of bonded.  They had worn thin just about everyone's patience at school.   Yet in some ways they became the scapegoats, the ones who got absolutely no breaks, and the ones who got fussed at for things that other did without a second glance.  This is what happens when you make a bad name for yourself.  Yet, no matter how "bad" they were, they were still people. 

Sometimes my focus was just to treat them with dignity and respect.  Even though sometimes (often times) it was a real stretch, because they wore my patience and goodwill thin a lot of days.  Sometimes it's like that with us and God.  I'm sure I wear His patience and goodwill thin a lot of days.  Yet He is always there, always willing to give me a fresh start, respectful of the dignity that is part of being a child of God. 

At the beginning of this school year - about a week before the start of school, we got word about a brand-new program that would be opening at another site for overage eighth graders.  Two of them were accepted.  The program would be ready in a couple of weeks.  The weeks turned into a month, and then two.  I don't know why the school system can't have programs ready to go at the start of school, but....

Finally, one day last week, I got the email that we'd all been waiting for....they would start last Friday.  And a third "club" member had been accepted.  Thursday came and we ordered pizza, bought soda, and pushed back the desks.  One of them told me before class that he "wasn't doin' no math today!"  I wanted to ask him how that would be different than any other day, but I just smiled and said that I really didn't expect that they would be doing any on their last day.  They ate, they drank, and they danced. I videoed their "performance" and we watched the videos and looked at pictures I'd taken in class and on field trips during the past year.  We laughed, we talked, and it was good.   

Look at those faces!  What's not to love?  OK - don't make me answer that! 

My parting instructions to them were NOT to come back on our campus until they were coming to bring me a graduation invitation.  With their new program, they get home quite a bit earlier in the afternoon than our school, and I knew there would be a temptation for them to come back.  No good could come of that.   Wouldn't you know that one would be knocking on my classroom door Tuesday afternoon.  I invited him in, reminded him of what I had told him, asked him how things were going (good), admired his new ID, and sent him on his way.  He said he'd come to return a book.  Wednesday morning, I was walking across a street across town to go to Mass when someone called to me from a vehicle on the street.... his mom...  Go figure.  She also said that he seemed to like it.

I'm glad.  I hope they will have a fresh start, and I hope that they will work up to their capabilities.  I hope they will take advantage of the opportunities being offered to them.  I hope that it will be the beginning of a great future for them.  I hope.

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