Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What do you remember about school?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


On our first day of pre-service this past week, the teaching staff wrote reflections about key educational events in their lives that brought them to where they are now as teachers. Everyone went back through their memories of school and classrooms, and considered what stood out. Here's one of my school memories -



The butterfly was painted with every color of the rainbow, and it spread its wings across the entire front of my bright orange sweatshirt. It was a tween's dream - it looked magical, beautiful, and fabulous. I was in eighth grade, a new student at public junior high, and a recent transfer from a parochial school where we wore the same stale uniform every single day. The butterfly sweatshirt was my exhale, my celebratory release. It was also a gift from my Dad, who was in the Navy and had just left for Vietnam. This sweatshirt splurge was his way of saying "I love you and I'll miss you" to his 13 year old daughter.

The first day I wore the sweatshirt to school, it was unusually warm. I had worn it over another much more boring top, and that turned out to be a good thing...I couldn't stand the sweaty feel of both layers and by mid-morning, I had slipped off the sweatshirt and hung it in my locker. I double-checked the lock after closing the door. I hoped it would be cooler when I walked home from the bus stop; I knew, even if it wasn't, I would 'suffer for beauty' and put that sweatshirt back on, hoping to impress my friends. I raced off to my next class.

At the end of the day, I excitedly opened my combination lock - only to discover the locker empty, the sweatshirt gone.

Gone.

Gone.

Gone.

I couldn't believe it. It didn't make sense. I know I locked the locker. Where did the sweatshirt go? Who would take it?

This 'underground' world where students surreptitiously broke into others' lockers was new to me. I had never had a locker before; I didn't know it was possible. But, yes, it was. This was my sad reality, my tough learning.

It was a hard loss, not something I could easily replace.

The very next day, as I made my way through the halls after lunch, there was Ramona Carter wearing my butterfly sweatshirt! Well, what was left of it. She strutted down the hall in a bright orange sleeveless sweatshirt - yes, sleeveless. At the shoulders, the arm holes had all those tiny triangular edges where the sleeves had been cut off with pinking shears. The body of the sweatshirt - with its beautiful multi-colored butterfly - was covered in signatures. Yes, it was signed in black permanent marker by 100 or more of Ramona's closest friends.

My sweatshirt. Destroyed. Vandalized. Ruined.

I didn't know Ramona. I only knew OF her. She was tough and cool and ran with a very different crowd than mousy, awkward me. I was very afraid to confront her.

I didn't know what to say.

I didn't know what to do.

She stole my beloved sweatshirt! Out of my locker!

I went to the Assistant Principal and told him what had happened. I hoped to get his advice and input. I remember he listened to me and didn't ask me a single question or clarification. He was quiet for a brief moment and then he said, "I'm sorry but you can't prove that the sweatshirt is yours. You'll just have to get over it."

I think his reaction hurt worse than the theft itself.

I walked out of his office, stunned, numb, and surprised. I am still so saddened at his lack of effort to help with the situation. His reaction made me feel both isolated and, somehow, wrong. I spent the rest of my time at junior high school avoiding Ramona.

As the years have passed, my reflection is - what a missed opportunity for conflict resolution, for restorative practice. We have to grab onto these challenging moments between students and help them to hear one another, to consider each other's perspective. Without a doubt, this Assistant Principal had a huge influence on me in my teaching - I work hard to help students resolve their conflicts.

4 comments:

  1. Sorry for your loss. Things are only things until they are things that hold deeper meanings. I know the feeling of having something special stolen. I also try to remember that good comes out of every situation. You have found the good! Have a great school year.

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    1. I probably should have noted that this took place 45 years ago! Funny how 'going down memory lane' can make it seem much more recent and clear. It was definitely a pivotal moment in my education.

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  2. I can't imagine fluffing things off like that today! Don't you think we respond better to our studenst these days?

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    1. I think that was what occurred to me as I reflected as an educator - the 'defeatism,' the 'who cares?' attitude of this administrator is so apparent now. Of course, I didn't recognize this then - as a kid, I felt that I must have been wrong to seek a solution from him. It motivates me to work hard at restorative practices in my own school, to see these small moments with students as important.

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