I had to teach on MLK Jr. Day

[PROLOGUE/WARM-UP]

…because it is my school’s belief that Martin Luther King Jr. would be more honored by our  work at school than by our sleeping in and relaxing. The cynical side of me says, “Bullocks!” and thinks that this is yet another demonstration of asserting power for the sake of asserting power.  But I’m glad I went to school today. (I sometimes wish that during breaks, I could take my students on trips.  Or just do little things.  Like garden.  or paint the walls.  Or set up a dodgeball tournament.  We could do homework together during breaks, and they wouldn’t feel bored and at home.)

Today at school, I got to talk to a student.  I was making copies, and I saw him in the room across mine.  Head buried in his arms.

Now, I’m at a charter, so I’m not sure what the rules are, but I patted his back with my left arm as he cried into his arms.

A tough weekend. Family fought. Sister left.  This goofy kid who strutted in at the bottom rung of middle school and told all the 8th grade girls that his name was that of a high-profile rapper.  Tall for his age, his mom chose to hold him back because she wanted him to be ready-ready for middle school.  She felt he still had some growing up to do.  I got to know him because he never does his homework, but he holds his head high and greets me anyway.  I can’t help but laugh at the little mischievous curve of his mouth, his full cheeks, and beautiful bovine eyes.  Girls would kill for lashes like his.

Today they trembled under the watery weight of his pain.  He looks so big, but his heart is still so tender.  In a few years, he’ll learn to be like his older siblings and mask that hurt.  But today, we were able to acknowledge that crying is okay because it shows us that we’re hurting.  And pain is good because it’s a signal that something is wrong.  And God forbid the day when we witness and experience wrong but do not have the physical wherewithal to acknowledge it.

I had him write his feelings, which seems so cliche but it also works.  Kid might hate writing for school, but he’s willing to put his thoughts on paper.  His thoughts are simple, yet I forget the truths he pens.  Families are not supposed to be broken or hurting.  And he wishes he could make it all better.  I asked him what he could do to help the situation, and he said he could do better at school.  And that simple answer tore at my heart a little because for these kids, they truly believe that doing better at school is their ticket.  It’s because that’s what we say all the time.  (But is that even true?  It’s not the golden ticket.)  We discussed what his good qualities were, and I was glad that he knows his strengths.  I also suggested  that we don’t need to suppress our sorrow, but at the same time, sometimes doing something else helps to ease the burden.  It was a gentle hint for him to return to class.  When I came back, he was gone.

At the end of the day, he casually knocked on my doorframe.  “I’m better now, Ms. Kim.”  His friends were nearby and he was on his way home.  “Good,” I responded shortly.  He smiled and turned lazily away, backpack slung over one arm.  Then I went back to tutoring chemistry. Today I hope he remembers that someone cares.

 

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