Dear Public School Teacher,
I know you have a lot on your plate. Over 100 students, maybe multiple courses, 200 parents or guardians, administration, observations, conferences, IEPs and accommodations, phone calls and emails, professional development, assessments, grading… I get it. I know I’m not there anymore and that’s no longer my world, but I remember the chaos, and I empathize with you. You’re exhausted, and stressed, and only halfway through the year. You’re underpaid and overextended (but it’s never been about income for you). The days are short and dark, and the future of our profession is hanging in the air, threatened by privatization and undervalued by those with power. But you, you are incredible. You’re a warrior for the future and a harbinger of hope for our society. Thank you.
You may not know me, but I am your teammate. I teach your students when they disappear for a while. Your registrar says their absences are excused and they’re still getting seating hours, despite their seat in your room being empty. They sit in my chair instead, at our too-heavy-to-flip-or-throw tables, in classrooms smaller than 10. They ask to get up, and write with golf pencils. They wear paper thin scrubs, and Velcro shoes. They come into my room, counting off, with their hands behind their back, open in the shape of a diamond. I tell them I expect just 3 things:
“You do not get in my way. If I can’t teach, nobody can learn.
You do not get in others’ way. Learning happens here – it is a right that you will not violate.
You do not get in your own way. If you need something, whether that’s space, or a timeout, or to talk to someone, you ask. I cannot give you what you need if you don’t tell me.”
Their futures are uncertain, their emotional IQ is developing at best. Many are coming down from highs of one kind or another, and have been abandoned, taken advantage of, or abused by someone in their lives. Why am I telling you this?
Because, Public School Teacher, these students were yours. Maybe it was when they were in 4th grade, or maybe it was last week. You probably don’t remember them, because their attendance was never great. Or maybe you remember them vividly because you were constantly sending them out of class for behavior issues. Maybe they blend in with all the other struggling, back-of-the-class kids you’ve had. They come to me hating school. They write so far below grade-level, and their responses lack even the smallest ounce of confidence, that I know before they even tell me, that they’ve never liked school because they just end up feeling dumb. So they drop out in 3rd grade, or fifth, or go to eighth grade for half the year before they decide a job is more valuable to them than an education.
So I beg you, Public School Teacher, to make the tiniest space on your plate for that kid. I know it’s full, and I know it’s not fair to you, but you caring – you taking the extra 30 seconds so he can copy down notes because he’s just a little slower; or you understanding that his gruff speech isn’t disrespect, it’s cultural; you asking what his goals are and not dismissing them; you talking to him about Lil Yachty or Lil Boosie or Lil whomever even though you think the music is garbage; you learning that his rudeness comes from the fact that you remind him of his verbally abusive mom; you figuring out that his gang involvement comes from a desperate need for support and community; you finding that ounce of potential that no one else has seen, and he doesn’t believe is there – you investing, just the tiniest bit, in him can prevent me from ever meeting him.
If I do, I promise that I will meet them with kindness, and hope, and put every ounce of myself into teaching them, no matter their level or ability. I will convince them that education is worth their while and that their literacies are valuable. I will make their world bigger and work to tear down those walls. I will do everything I can to prepare them to come back to your classroom and be successful.
But I hope, with all my heart, that the little extra from you will mean that they never meet me.
With a grateful heart,
A juvenile detention teacher.