New clothes. Reunions with friends after summer’s separation. Anxious energy belying the sleepy tiredness of a schedule interrupted. A new hope for a new year. No zeros in the grade book. No referrals in their files. A clean slate. For everyone.
The new year gives new life to every kid who walks through the door, a fresh start. Their Phoenixes reborn, they take flight, vowing to do better, the other New Year’s resolution. And for a moment the building’s a bubble, buoyed by beliefs of better. And then…the bubble bursts. It always does. And we can’t stop that. But, we can choose our response when the air escapes and the crash begins.
He was late the first day. That’s okay. He may have gotten lost. He didn’t have a backpack. That’s okay. I plan for such things; I gave him a pencil and paper. He talked to his neighbor too much. That’s okay. He doesn’t know me and my ways yet. I won’t even get to my “rules” until next week. He didn’t come to class the next day. That’s okay. Probably a scheduling snafu. Lots a changes still. 53 minutes later, He walked by my window. We made eye contact. It was two minutes before lunch. He had skipped my class. That’s not okay.
I have to write up truancies. It’s my job. The rules are clear. The consequences established. The other kids saw him, too. So, I had no choice. But I hate that corner. I hate being backed into the place where I cannot exercise my better judgment. So, I dwell in a circle instead. No corners. Just a continuous flow of ideas cycling through my mind until I find the best answer. I don’t subscribe to one-size fits all for learning. And for me this is just another learning opportunity. And despite the clarity of the rule, I chose a different path.
Turns out, I knew him before I knew him. “Axe.” Oh, that’s who Axell is. I’d heard about Axe, everyone had. But I had never put a face to a name. And now the “freshman terror” was a member of my sophomore classroom community. No wonder he skipped. That’s what he does. And if he’s not skipping, he’s disrupting. The kid with a rap sheet that rolled out in front of him, announcing to the world, I am Axe; I am here to ruin your day. At least that’s the gist of last year’s narrative.
I could have resolved it simply. I could have just written him up. In fact, they have ready-made referrals waiting for him in the office (kidding). But, when I went to the assistant principal to discuss the issue, I discovered that he and Axe were well-acquainted. And immediately his crestfallen response communicated, “Here we go.” But I didn’t want to open that door already. It was only day two. So, I asked, instead, if we could use it as perhaps a reachable if not teachable moment, requesting that in place of a referral and ISS, we all have a conversation on Tuesday morning. In keeping with my Journey metaphor, I wanted to approach it from the “he-just-got-off-path” angle, hoping to get him back on track in a manner that communicated, “You are part of this journey, Axe, and it’s important to me that we make it to the end, so you can’t go wandering off on me. You gotta stay the course.” Our AP was very receptive to the idea. And we agreed to give it a shot.
But that changed. Another choice came circling around the room in my head. Standing out in the hall before 4th period, I had a chance to catch Axe alone before class began. Here’s our conversation.
Me: (quietly) You know I gotta do something, right?
Axe: Yeah, I know. I’m sorry; it won’t happen again. I talked to some other kids, and they were like, “Dude, you don’t skip Syrie’s class.”
Me: Okay, I’m not gonna write you up, but we need to have a conversation with Mr. Roberts on Tuesday. Okay? I’m not mad. I just can’t have ya skipping class. And if you are gonna skip, ya can’t walk by my window. We’ll talk more about it on Tuesday.
Axe: Okay, thank you.
Importantly, Axe and I walked in late together, so the rest of the kids knew he and I had discussed the issue. They knew that I had not just let it go (all eyes are on us–always). Axe found his seat and the period got underway, and in that time my mind had changed yet again. Axe participated in Smiles and Frowns. He didn’t talk to his neighbor. I sat with him and helped him, and he even willingly redid a portion of the assignment (apparently, he “didn’t do work” last year), and near the end of the period, he asked me if I had ever been to Northport where he was going camping over the holiday weekend with his family.
Consequently, we are not meeting Tuesday morning. I am okay with where we are. We will continue the journey as if nothing ever happened. Axe wandered a bit, but I didn’t lose him. He’s with me, for now. He may be pulling the wool over my eyes, even some of the storytellers from last year suggest that that is likely the case, but I had to give him a chance to get back on track. Too early in the year to lose one of my charges. Right or wrong, I made a choice. I chose to lift Axe up, saving him from the crash. Not that hard, really. I got air to spare, even for kids-especially for kids–with broken bubbles.