Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest, maybe it’s because I’m a twenty-something woman, maybe it’s because our nation has been operating more heavily on fear than curiosity for the last year or so, I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but for some reason one of the first questions I get about my job from people back home is “Have you ever been hurt?” or “Have you ever been attacked?” or “Are you afraid?”
The answer is a very strong No.
These are children. Few of whom have ever been exposed to healthy relationships, good examples, and adults who genuinely want the best for them and grant them selfless investment & patience.
When I learn their names immediately, when I help them find books that reflect their life experience and contain characters who look and think like them, when I ask them how their headspace is, or squat down next to them to try to get them to engage in class, I earn their trust. And it gives me greatest joy.
Most of these kids were either raised only by their mother, or abandoned, abused or neglected by their mother. Their relationship to women is complex, and brimming over with emotional triggers.
The only time I have ever been in the middle of an altercation with my students was last fall. One of my more difficult students, who had been abandoned by his mother at a young age and victim to the system ever since, was refusing to engage in the task at hand. I asked him to please follow directives, and he responded with “F*** that. I’m not doing your F***ing work, b****”
Before I could send him out for what we called Staff Time Outs (students are removed from the classroom and spend 15 minutes to an hour in their cell, and are processed out), another student snapped out of work mode to correct his peer:
“You don’t say that to her!”
“I say whatever the F*** I want”
“No man, you don’t talk to females like that!”
As I attempt to de-escalate my defender, the difficult student stands up and the other responds with the same action. I call a Code Yellow.
As State Staff makes their way to the room, the argument continues. My defender continues to insist that his peer apologizes and refrains from using language like that to address me.
“SHE’S A FEMALE. YOU DON’T TALK TO HER LIKE THAT!”
I’m not afraid. I’m not intimidated. I am humbled. I am respected.