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Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's just not fair

My half day at an elementary school turned out to be a full day with 5th graders. It went better than expected.

The morning started with me filling in for a PE instructor who had to leave for a sporting event. I was left to play Whipple ball with the students. The first class was a class of 5th graders, second class was a group of rowdy fourth graders and the third hour was a group of pesky third graders.
My afternoon was with the same 5th-grade class and by the end of the day they warmed my heart. They seemed pleased to have me for the afternoon.

The teacher left me a very detailed instruction sheet. She also wrote down the names of three "disruptive" students. All were Hispanic boys: Miguel, Fernando and Anthony. Ironically had she not left that note for me I would not have noticed those boys being disruptive. I actually thought they were pretty courteous.

But the one child who touched my heart was a tall, thin black boy who sat in the corner by him self. He was the only black child in the class. Why was he in the corner alone? He told me he had gotten in trouble the day before and his desk was moved there.

The problem got worse for him, though, when I was told my three "group leaders" would help keep the class in check. These three group leaders were all girls who took their leadership position to their heads. The black boy could do nothing right: by the end of the day his name was marked "disrespectful" 13 times. Everyone in class labeled him as disruptive and no matter what he did he could do nothing right.

I didn't catch all the alleged disrespects but I did notice that the primary group leader egged this boy on. When the boy responded with anger (which is what the girl wanted), he got marked as "bad." It was a vicious cycle.

By the end of the day the boy was so discouraged that he told me he wasn't going to come to school.
Why? I asked him. "Because I have so many demerits I won't get recess for a week!"

The student completed their assignments early and I was allowed to let them outside to vent off some energy. I spoke alone with Deshawn, the boy, and told him that I thought he was a smart and handsome young man, but that he shouldn't let others egg him on. The more he reacts to the egging, the more he reacts negatively, which gets him into trouble.

What I really saw in the boy was a troubled young man whose parents recently divorced and he's having a hard time coping with the change. His change translates into misplaced anger and isolation. And I don't think his teacher is handling him correctly. She is pushing him toward failure when in fact he's a young man quite capable of achieving well.

But how to tell the real teacher this? When she came back 20 minutes before dismissal I filled her in on the day's events. I watched her handle the class: with an iron grip. I didn't want to interfere, nor did I want to tell her my opinion of Deshawn.

Deshawn, the three Hispanic boys, the girl leaders and the rest of the class all showed me a diverse class in action. But what I also witnessed were stereotypes in action as well: brainy girls leading the discipline, minority boys reacting physically, and labeled groups stuck in a group they can't get out of. I wish I could reach inside all these young minds and get to the bottom of any misbehaviour, because what I saw today was also a group quite capable of achieving well. There were other active minds: Chase, Gaby, Jasmine, Fabian, Brandon, Braxton, Gina the Math wizard ("I'm going to be a doctor or a lawyer!")

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