Day 59: I thought I heard, “Can I go with you?” To which I replied, “No, I have to go to a meeting upstairs.”
Then, she clarified: “No … Can I go home with you?”
Context: On Friday, JR, her teachers and all of her parents had a conference after school. It was, in short, brutal. This was, to some extent, the point. JR is the heaviest of the heavy hitters in the 6th grade. I’ve seen her in the office three different times … in one day. She often does what she wants, and when a teacher asks her to do what he or she wants instead, the attitude comes out.
The meeting went back and forth between our aspirations for JR and some harsh realities. For example, she was told, in no uncertain language, to never yell at teachers. Unfortunately, the tough parts had a tendency to shut JR down, and it was anyone’s guess whether the affirming parts of the meeting – think, “we trust and respect you and want to see you make the most of your potential” – had sunk in.
One day in, the evidence isn’t strong that much changed. JR was in the office by 6th period for telling the English teacher, “Get out of my face!” While I wasn’t there, “telling” is likely not the right verb, although that’s how JR told me. After a couple of periods sitting in the office, the administration made the decision to send her home. Given the strict consequences we discussed Friday, this made sense to me, but was still disappointing.
JR came by my homeroom for homework lab that day, but she clearly wasn’t in the mood for working. Often when JR knows she’s in trouble, she is very clear in telling the world she could care less, and continues careening through the halls, or asking me for candy. Today, all she could do was sit on the table at the back of my room and stare at her feet.
She had called her mom, who’d been disappointed. She had spoken to her dad, who was angry. She was worried about going home. She said she wanted to die. And it was just after that when JR said, “Can I go home with you?”
I’ve played good cop with JR before, but not today. I’d told her I hated seeing her in the office, and made her write an apology letter to the English teacher. Still, at some point during the afternoon, JR told me I was the only teacher who understood her, and would listen. The only conclusion I can come to is that JR needs someone to trust right now, someone who holds her to high expectations, forgives her when she does not meet them, and unconditionally cares about her. And it sounds like, at school at least, that person is me.
Her mom loves her, and so does her dad. Within days JR will forget that she ever asked me that. I’m also guessing, unfortunately, that within days JR will be back to her old habits, and we’ll see this played out all over again. Still, that doesn’t change that today I got as strong evidence as I’ve seen all year that consistency with kids is crucial. JR doesn’t trust me to be the one who lets her do what she wants. She trusts me to be the one who is there for her and believes in her, even when things go wrong. If I’m going to be the best teacher to her I can be, I’ll have to keep navigating that fine line between support and expectations, love and reality checks.