Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ramblings on Demonstrative Adjectives and the State of Our Society

Anyone who knows me well knows that I really love my school.  I do, sincerely.  I started there 13 years ago, on a wing and a prayer because a kind-hearted crazy woman who hired me when she didn't really have a job for me yet. 

I don't just work there; I feel called there.  You know... Called.  Capital "C".

The atmosphere, the culture, the population size is all so radically different from everything with which I grew up that, on a daily basis, I learn something brand new about the world.

Mind you, my love for my school doesn't mean I overlook our flaws.  We have a ton of problems; some are within our control and some are not.  It doesn't mean that I don't get tired and fed up and want to quit on a weekly basis.  Because I do.  Sometimes it's a weekly/daily/hourly basis.

But in the last two weeks, my co-workers and I have been visited by three different former knuckleheads.  Wait.  Not "former", more like "reformed".  Because they changed.  They grew.  Something, somewhere, opened their eyes to a life they didn't want to live anymore.  Then they felt confident enough to come up to our school, to their coaches, to their teachers and say the words that every junior high teacher lives for:

"Miss (or Sir)... you were right."

All three kids acknowledged who they once were and who they are now.  They acknowledged what they did and then explained what they do now.  One has a 3.8 and is applying to nursing school.  One is a working mom.  One is mentoring kids at another junior high.  All of them were smiling.  None of them did this alone.  The working mom told a co-worker and me that "Life is hard, but it's good".

I like that. Life is hard, but it's good.  That's wisdom and realism and God all in six words.


I overheard someone, in passing a few months ago, say something about "these kids" in reference to the students at my school.  It wasn't a nice reference, and I won't go into the entire conversation for two reasons: A) It's not worth my time.  And 2) the only words that truly irked me were "these kids".  I didn't know, right away, why they irked me so much, but, after much thought, I figured it out.

The disdain drips out of them. 

It's incredible how much of your truest self can be revealed in just one tiny little demonstrative adjective such as "these". 

I started listening to how others talked about the people surrounding them -- friends, kids, students, politicians, sports teams -- and it was so interesting to see the differences in attitudes.  People who wanted to distance themselves from the problem (whether it be a political disagreement, a lost game, or a misbehaving student) used the demonstrative.  "That guy", "this team", "those kids"...

But others chose to use a possessive pronoun -- "our President", "our boys", "my students".  The people, even in disagreement, still identified themselves as part of that group simply through the use of a possessive pronoun.  And, in thinking about the personalities of all the speakers, I realized that those using the possessive not only identified themselves as part of the group (or the problem, as it may be) but were actively looking for solutions to remedy their disagreement.  The "demonstrators" were much more likely to be people who not only distance themselves from the problem but also rarely perceive their own actions as a possible source of the problem.

I wonder... Can you be a part of the solution without knowing that you've been part of the problem?


Thinking back to the days when the three reformed knuckleheads graced our classrooms and hallways, I know that there were many times when I referred to them as "those kids" or "that girl" or "this knucklehead".  I know it because I'm human, and many times my flawed humanity is glaringly unattractive.  I'm not proud of it, but I am real with it.

Yet at some point, some time, we must have taken some ownership in their worlds as evidenced by their return.  Because as Henry Ward Beecher said, "What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose". 

Whether we own their hearts or they own ours, is the only question we have left to answer.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Can a Snickers Bar Save a Soul?

Today I realized that, yes, a Snickers bar can save a soul.  Even just a bite-sized Snickers bar.

Yesterday wasn't great.  I was tired.  Kids were crazy.  Lessons failed.  I had to take my victories where I could get them, even the bite-sized ones.

A student that I've never taught but somehow know (you know the kind that I'm talking about) decided that he wanted a piece of candy -- specifically the bite-sized Snickers bar that one of his friends won from me in class.  So I told this student that if he had his shirt tucked in every time I saw him all day, I'd give him a piece of candy at the end of the school day.

Every passing period, outside my door, there he stood -- pointing at his shirttail which was neatly tucked in each and every time.  Yet at the end of the day, he never showed for his candy.

Coming in this morning, I saw him in the hallway.  When I teased him about ditching me, he told me that he'd had to go home early.  I reminded him to tuck in his shirt (again) and told him to come see me after school.  After all, a deal's a deal.

When he showed up today after school (with his shirt tucked in), I offered the candy jar.  He excitedly grabbed his treat and made sure to say thank you.  I also told him that because I trusted he had his shirt tail tucked all day (which he probably didn't), he could have another as well.  His eyes got as big as saucers, and he asked me, "FOR REAL?"

I laughed and told him that I never joke about Snickers bars and that I don't trust just anyone.  And then I proposed that every day I couldn't catch him with an untucked shirt, I'd pay up with a piece of chocolate. 

He looked at me as though I'd just offered him 50 bucks.  The disbelief was all over his face.  When I reminded him that I was no joke, he was so gracious and polite that, for just a moment, I couldn't believe this was the kid I'd seen do the things I'd seen (and heard).  Upon leaving, he thanked me one more time and shook my hand.

I wondered about his reaction.  It seemed that any kindness, any genuine concern for him, was met with suspicion and disbelief, and it's taken me a couple of weeks just to get him to answer me when I say hello.  I was saddened by it, but I'm also hopeful. 

Today really wasn't that much better.  Kids didn't do their homework.  I was still tired.  And I woke up to some awful news, but I took my small victory, and I treasured it.

Don't get me wrong, I am completely unsure that a Snickers bar can save his soul.

But it sure as Hell saved mine today.