Friday, December 14, 2012

A Calling - Ellen, 67

Jimmy wore floods—ankle-high slacks. He had thick glasses—Coke bottles. And he wore the white shirt—a little snug—and the dark tie of the school’s uniform. He was a first year student, a ninth grader, in an average class within a homogenous grouping. Jimmy was a quiet and shy boy who had no apparent friends in this class. I felt sorry for Jimmy; he seemed so out of place and disconnected from the other students.

This was my second year of teaching. This English class met right after their Phys Ed class so everyone scrambled to get dressed and in their seats on time. I began each class by taking attendance. As the semester went by, every time I took attendance and called out Jimmy’s name, there would be quiet murmurs or silent non-verbal reactions that continued to show some disdain for Jimmy. The students were making fun of him. It distressed me to hear these comments. I knew I would have to deal with this cruelty; I just didn’t know how.

These students in the class were generally decent human beings. And I enjoyed each one of them. We had good times in class reading and writing about literature and discussing life with literature as a trigger. We genuinely liked each other. But it was my job to help the students learn to treat Jimmy decently. It troubled me to experience the beginning of class the way it was. But I didn’t know what to do.

One day, Jimmy was absent when I called his name. The class began its usual snickers and teasing comments under their breaths. I just decided to try something—I was feeling desperate and frustrated. I talked to the class in a calm and serious tone:

You know, we have to talk. How do you think Jimmy feels wearing short slacks? How do you think he feels wearing such thick glasses? How do you think he feels being all alone in class? How would you feel? (The students all hung their heads down.) I don’t want you to feel guilty; I want you to think about how Jimmy might feel—put yourselves in his position. Just think about it.

The next day, when I took attendance, and called out Jimmy’s name, one member of the class spoke out, “You should have seen Jimmy hit the volleyball.” Another student said, “Yah.” All of the students were enthusiastic. From that day forward, Jimmy was a part of the class—he was included. I couldn’t believe it. My risk-taking paid off. It could have backfired. But I had to take a chance. I had to believe the students would do the right thing if offered the opportunity. And, of course, I needed to have a strong, positive relationship with the students and develop a sense of classroom community in order to intervene. Yes, I felt proud of myself. But more importantly, I was moved to tears by the students’ behaviors.

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