So, we all know that my time at this school has been rough. And with every passing day, it seems that there is a little wedge of news getting between me and my feelings that next year will be any better.
Today’s news, for example, was that we will be adopting a high school type of schedule. As in, we will have 90-minute classes.
“It’ll be fun!” Uber Vanilla exclaimed. “It’ll be a workshop model in every class!”
I love a good workshop model. I do. But, given that we as a school are planning on taking on a new school culture model, teachers are being given wonky teaching assignments, and we want to implement a new disciplinary system, learning how to wrangle 35 twelve year-olds for 90 minutes seems like a lot to take on.
I was feeling overwhelmed by it all, and honestly, I pulled up another district’s job openings and looked longingly at a few of their openings. Sure, I’d be starting at the very bottom of the totem pole, but it could be better than all of this garbage, right?
As my wildest class came storming in this afternoon, I braced myself to try and compartmentalize my feelings about the schedule so I could survive this group of kids. They’re all great on their own, but man, the group dynamic can be tough.
There I was, trying to remind people to get their books, no, not that’s someone else’s book, no we don’t throw books, no, I don’t know where your book is, I swear I haven’t moved them – when suddenly, a bright purple bag of Takis was shoved in my face.
“Wha?” I said, my eyes going from the bag to the arm holding them. The arm the Takis were being held by belonged to Luke (not his real name, but definitely the name of the surly, but lovable character from Gilmore Girls, who this student very much reminds me of) one of the most difficult, challenging, and frustrating students I’ve ever encountered.
A scowl was his usual response to anything, and once, when I had been checking the time, my eyes skimmed over his table and he erupted from his seat, shouting, “WHAT?! I wasn’t doing anything! I see how it is! Go after the black kid! WHY are you staring at me?!”
These types of outbursts were common, and if he wasn’t yelling, he was calling everyone around him a “hater,” and then went ahead and called himself “Midnight,” due to the fact that “other kids are going to call him worse things than ‘black,'”
I knew that this shell of anger and animosity came from years of being treated like a second-class citizen. Luke had actually grown up in China, the one black kid in a sea of Asian kids. Then, when he came back to the States, he traded all the Asian kids for white kids, and he felt like he would never really belong anywhere.
Easier to strike out at those around you before they even have a chance to scratch your armor.
So, every day when the bell rang and he stalked past me to get to class, I’d say, “Good morning, Luke!” and as he rolled his eyes, I hoped that we could get through the afternoon.
At one point, we met with his parents, who seemed as frazzled and frustrated as we all were.
“We just don’t know what to do,” his father lamented. “I don’t know this kid anymore. He’s so angry. All the time.”
They told us that they had put Luke in therapy, to see if a few bricks could be removed from the incredibly sturdy wall he had built around himself. We as his teachers continued to just try and be kind to him as he hurled vitriol at us.
Then, ever so slowly, he started scowling less. He would grunt a reply to our greetings, and he stopped wearing his dark sunglasses and calling himself Midnight. He started to share his thinking with those around him in a kind, respectful way. His numbers of “haters,” dwindled.
One day last week, he smiled. And it was beautiful.
And now, here he was, offering me a bag of quite possibly my favorite chips in the world.
“Here,” he said, shaking the bag a bit to wake me from my incredulous stupor. “I know you’ve been stressed. And you like these, right?”
I took them from him and hugged the bag to my chest like a treasured teddy bear. Tears were welling up and very much threatening to mutiny all over my face.
“Thank you, Luke,” I said. Other students gathered around us, also astounded.
“Those are from Luke?” one said. Another added, “Wow, Luke doesn’t give food away. Like, ever.”
Luke just shrugged off the attention and walked to his seat.
With my heart about to burst, I walked to my desk and gently laid the Takis down in the middle. I looked up just in time to see Luke pat his table partner on the back and say, “Yeah, I haven’t had a good day either, but we can move past it.”
I am so proud of him. I can’t imagine the courage it took to open up and stop swinging his battle ax at everyone after everything he has gone through.
This isn’t just any bag of Takis. This bright, crinkly, purple bag of spicy goodness is proof that Luke had come an incredibly long way, and that he was willing to put down his battle ax, at least during my class. These Takis were a peace offering, held through a small hole in the wall he had built up his entire life.
Takis are delicious, but coming from this kid makes them extra amazing. I am going to savor every last chip in that bag. And then I’m going to frame it.
I’d been needing good news. And this was about the best news I could have gotten. I don’t know much about next year, but I do know that Luke is feeling better, and has a brighter future ahead of him, not lugging that heavy ax around all the time. That’s enough good news for me.