Sunday, March 20, 2016

SOLSC #20 What if we take one step closer?

During the month of March, I am participating in
the Slice of Life Story Challenge.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days. My slices will be primarily about teaching preschoolers.
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.

He appeared out of nowhere in the hallway with several of his middle-school classmates, on his way to class. She, the mom, had just dropped off her sweet little guy at my preschool classroom, to start his day. As she passed by, his shoulder knocked against hers, and then he fell to the floor - much to the merriment of his classmates. Mom was a little surprised, asked if he was okay, he nodded yes in the midst of the laughter, and everyone went on their way.

The next morning, as Mom left my classroom after kissing her little guy goodbye, there he appeared again, tall, imposing, mischievous, surrounded by his middle-school friends. As Mom headed down the hall, he jabbed his shoulder into her shoulder, all the while sporting a big grin, and he threw himself down onto the floor, accompanied by more laughter from his friends. Mom hurried out of the school, on her way to work, but, unlike the day before, an uneasy feeling lingered. Was he doing this on purpose? Why this interaction two days in a row? After some thought, she contacted our principal, to share her concerns.

She didn't know his name. She could only provide a physical description.

The first I heard about any of the above was when the sixth grade boy was brought to my classroom by the principal mid-day, while the preschoolers were napping. The principal asked me if I had a little boy named Mark in my class. Yes, I do. Then she introduced John to me, the middle-schooler, and asked him to tell me why he was here. "I bumped into Mark's mother today and yesterday," he said in a quiet, uneven, chagrined voice. The principal continued, "John has written a note of apology. I think it is very important for him to meet Mark's Mom in person, to deliver the apology. What time does she pick up Mark?" And so it was agreed that John would return to apologize in person that afternoon, and give the note of apology.

Oh these foolish, young boys. There is nothing more important than making your classmates laugh.

The end of the day arrived, preschoolers were being dismissed to their families, and John appeared as planned. I introduced him to little Mark, saying "You'll be apologizing to this little guy's Mom." John was visibly contrite, looking a little nervous about what was yet to come. Into the classroom walks Mark's Mom and she sees John and me and her eyes grow wide. They step out into the hallway and John says his apology and gives her the note, and then he scoots away. Mark's Mom comes over to me, and whispers "How did he know to come here? I didn't want him to know who my child was. I have to tell you I am very scared of him. He said a very nice apology, but he did that mean shoving two days in a row. I think I'm being stalked. I spoke to the principal because I am scared."

I was caught off-guard by this and simply patted her arm, assuringly, saying, "It's okay. He feels very badly about what he did." Mom and Mark went on their way.

However, I couldn't shake the taste of this interaction, her words to me. I wondered,

Does it matter that this middle-schooler is Black?
Does it matter that this Mom is White?
How are we to be in community together - diverse people, diverse ages, preschool, elementary, middle school?
What does it mean for our community if adults are afraid of certain students?
How do we move towards one another?

I am the mother of three boys and any one of them could have done what John did when they were in middle-school. They did many, many foolish things. My boys are White. Did they get a free pass for silly, immature antics at this age?

After several days of wondering and wrestling with this, I followed Mark's Mom out of the classroom after drop-off and opened up the conversation again. "Hey, I was just wondering, have you seen John again since his apology?"

"No, actually, I haven't. Isn't that weird?"

"Well, I hope you do see him soon. I think it would be great if you gave him a big hello and called him by name. 11 and 12 year old boys are so foolish sometimes; my own boys embarrassed me greatly at that age."

And I left it at that.

Maybe a little preachy on my part...but, I wonder. How do we move towards one another? What if we dare to take one step closer?


  1. A sixth grader. She was scared of a sixth grader. Who fell down.

    Reading this, I can work up some nice righteous rage against her assumptions and prejudices. But were I in your shoes, I would struggle to know how to handle it, how to get her to shake up her thinking a little without actually calling her racist, since once you've gone there, all you'd get is defensiveness. I also know that large portions of society are kind of afraid of teenaged boys in general, that if you don't teach or parent this age group, you might not realize what kids they are.

    I also am uncomfortably aware that as a middle aged white lady, I am not immune to lapsing into prejudice and racism, to seeing the "other" instead of the person. Maybe part of my scorn for this mom's reaction is just an attempt to distance myself from her.

    All in all, plenty of food for thought here. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I wonder what John and his friends first saw in the nice white lady that provoked the bumping. I can't help but wonder what they sensed in her. Perhaps an underlying aura of fear, of racism.

    I love teens and find the ways people react to them perplexing, especially how they react to the boys. Boys try to hide their vulnerability.

    I do hope the mom gets to know John, that she'll see him as a person and realize that his fear is greater and more reasonable than her own.

  3. Some of the primary teachers (not just the parents) were leery of my middle schoolers. The teachers would come to me about some certain behaviors & I assured them that it was just the silly age. I imagine this mom is not only intimidated by the color but also the age. And he really shouldn't have done it twice. Moms of very young kids are fearful for their kids, too. What a mixed mess. I'm glad you stepped in to work on her feelings, to let her know that it is the age, the time they want to make people laugh, to feel important.

  4. I think a lot times, when you're not working with "Big Ones," or you don't have Bigs of your own at home, it makes them seem really scary. Sometimes people don't realize that they're still KIDS. Bigger, but still kids. Still inclined to do stupid things...

  5. I think you did the right thing. Her little boy will be in middle school one day; and, more than likely, he will do something equally silly. I hope (and pray) that her fear was not based on race but simply on her unfamiliarity with the silly antics of middle school boys.

  6. I think you are right to try to encourage more open communication. I don't think he meant to harm her or hurt her. He was playing and tryig to get his friends to laugh. I hope she will speak to him too in encouraging ways.