Twenty years in public service (and another 20 to go) has provided me with plenty of real-world anecdotes. I’ve witnessed a social dichotomy that’s neither unique to my cultural experience nor restricted to my locale. Nonetheless, my interactions are personal.
A resumé in juvenile justice, law enforcement, and child protective services prepared me to be…ta da…an educator. With a brief transition from juvenile probation services to a private alternative school and then back into social services, I’ve searched for a solution to the problem. Only now in my old(er) age do I realize an inherent wisdom in not having the answer. I barely know the question. I take a stab at it daily. Today’s hypothesis: how did we get so despondent?
With information so readily available and the ability to express ourselves so freely, how did we become more passionate and yet less empathetic? We care more about our personal experience, and less about the human condition. We are apart of something great (when we engage in a collective celebration), but we are reclusive when personal responsibility is at stake. In other words, we only care when we are not alone.
We are not alone! We are connected every moment of our day (and night). The revolution will not be televised because it’s in the palm of our hands! Citizen journalism partnered with internet connectivity–there is no escape. And yet we can’t get the help we need soon enough.
In my classroom, I enjoy the company of 20-27 elementary school students on any given day. Outside of my classroom, I tutor, mentor, and co-facilitate positive change through various civic organizations. I’m looking for an answer to a question that’s not been asked. Not who. Not what. Not where, how, or when! But WHY?
Why would any of my students treat me with malice? Why would I be the target of their disrespect or rage? The students who are the most resistant to compassion are the ones who need it the most, right? But at what point as a professional do I stop receiving the abuse from my students (and their parents) and put my foot down as a member of the community??
My career as a professional is second to my farherhood or my residency or my citizenship or my affiliations. I am not only a teacher! I live here too!! My students are the children of my neighbors. Their parents shop alongside me at the SuperWalmart. We pay the same high taxes, suffer the same social conditions, and will be buried likely in neighboring cemeteries. Our human condition is shared.
Unlike plenty of empathizers who travel 30-50 miles daily to save our children, I LIVE HERE. It doesn’t make me special, but it does give me skin in the game. Sadly, it doesn’t spare me the abuse; nor does it award me any type special consideration. Regardless, I’m all in!
So when a student curses me out for merely applying a universal standard, I don’t back down. I say a little prayer before I react. Then I apply the wisdom that I’ve gleaned over the years.
• address the incident
• document the incident
• call the parents about the incident
• refer the incident to the administration
• await a consequence that most certainly will not reduce the likeliness of ANOTHER incident.
• warn (the student)
• reason (with the student)
•redirect (the student)
• wait (for the student to respond appropriately)
Every incident brings with it a uniqueness. The rhymes or reasons that cause these scenarios have stories of their own.
There’s is something withIN each experience though–a lesson or a fable even. I know that I’m stronger on the other side of each unpleasant experience. There WILL be similar occasions, not unlike “Ground Hog Day;” each offering an opportunity to “get it right” or repeat the lesson.
I’m the teacher, but I’m also the student. My students are teaching me a lesson. I’m not certain what the lesson is however. When I teach, I start each day with an objective that is written on the board. Although my students may not know the route, they know where we are headed. I just wish that when others are teaching me a lesson, they would offer some direction.
Today, when my student said “F U, Mr. Morton!” He was offering the direction that I so desperately need. Every ounce of my existence spurs me to approach problems head-on! The sense of urgency is unyielding! I’m listening, and praying, and waiting…
There’s code in my students’ language. There’s suggestions in every gesture. For me, this is a second generation of youth. Their parents celebrate our “familiar” relationship from my previous career(s). They explain that, despite how their kids behave, we will always have history. But that’s not as meaningful as my students returning years later and remarking about our positive interactions.
I never recall the bitter, but revel in the sweet. I wonder if each student represents a lesson in patience and perseverance. Are we sharing the same space in the universe for mutual growth? Is my role as an educator a calling or merely a pit stop onto something greater?
I have no regret–even on the most trifling days. My disappointments are transformed into enlightenments masking as challenges. And yet I’m still not adequately prepared for tomorrow. In my dismay, I long for the meaning behind each moment. I won’t quit! I am wondering just how surreal my life would be if I could just figure out if “F U, Mr. Morton!” is just a euphemism for “thank you for not giving up!” Or maybe he’s merely offering a suggestion to where I should get my Ph.D.
Fairfield University, perhaps?