Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 29 2013

Dumas Man Killed

I am trying to get my internship log completed by the October 28th deadline. The only problem is October 28th ended 14 minutes ago and my log is empty because I didn’t do any of the 34 required activities. I started to complete one, just now, called a “Demographic Narrative.” Relative to my last post, the best way to complete this narrative is to look at my school’s ACSIP plan, write down the sub-populations of students who need targeted “unique programs” and interventions to help them achieve according to the Federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Instead I am crying. And updating my blog.

Can you imagine the most bright eyed, wide smiled, adorable black boy in an under-served elementary school? A sixth grader who loves his clothes neat and pressed, who it is rumored had problems with behavior last year, but you haven’t seen any of it yet, not after nine weeks. Maybe just one or two sneaky comments, but overall he just loves to dance, completes all his homework for the week on Monday, and is always eager to water the bamboo or tell a joke or write about how much he loves you.

Imagine that boy coming to school quieter than usual. Imagine him having a hard time working in his pod, struggling to communicate with the other eleven-year-olds, talking over you more than usual. Imagine him slunk back low in his seat, his big beautiful white teeth tucked beneath still lips. Imagine yourself allowing him to work independently with a low-grade consequence because you just know something is wrong.

Keep track of this boy. Watch him through the days, as this behavior continues. A little more withdrawn, but by the 3:10 bell he’s bouncier, happier, a little weight off his shoulders. Some mornings he’s more alive, but Monday seems to pull him the lowest.

Today’s Monday. Watch him walk in. Watch him do all the work himself during the group assignment, the other three with completely different answers, and let him do it. Watch him almost cry when you remove his computer privileges (his first day getting them all year) for talking out during instruction.

Pull him aside at recess, as he calls over his shoulder the amount of candy he’s going to get for Halloween. Take him for a walk to the copy machine.

Ask him, “Q, how was your weekend?”

Listen: “It was good. It was okay. Well some of it was bad.”

“Some? Like what part?”

“Saturday was bad.”

“Why was Saturday bad?”

“I went to a funeral.”

“You did? I’m so sorry. Who was it for?”

“My cousin.”

“Your cousin! That’s awful, Q. How old was he?”

“31.”

You stop. You were waiting for this to come up. You were wondering why this hasn’t come up.

“Were you close to him?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“He got shot in the head.”

You know what happened.

“Was he the one who tried to rob the drugstore last week? That man?”

“Yes ma’am. They say…” he trails off to think. “They say Mr. Bill shot him?” Your heart breaks. The old time pharmacy that makes egg sandwiches on white bread that remind you of your mother. The sunken booths and soda fountain counter. Where your students’ parents and grandparents work and drink coffee, where the 50′s style displays look awkward as the plastic jewelry and scattered trinkets mingle with antique drug store supplies: toothpaste packaging from your mother’s childhood, dusty boxes printed with images that make the graphic designer part of you smile. You imagine blood in front of the door. You imagine the old amiable owner living with the fact that he has killed another community member every day. You wonder what Q’s cousin needed the money for.

“I am so sorry, Q. That is so awful. I bet this is why you have been acting different, isn’t it?”

Shrugs, looks across the ground.

“I bet you’re pretty sad, aren’t you?”

Looks up. Looks you in the eye. Nods and tries to smile but can’t, just can’t. Instead it’s a hesitant, half teeth, half grimace stare. You begin to shake.

“Sometimes when we’re sad, it comes out as anger. We act out without meaning to. I think you might have been doing that last week and today, Q. I know I would be angry and sad if I were you.”

And so goes the conversation, the counselor referral, the reminder that teachers are here to be talked to, not to hide our feelings from. I reminded him that I’ve seen death, too, though in a much different light, and I thanked him repeatedly for being able to talk to me.

And when he left I continued to shake. I counted my breaths and the spaces between them. I thought of the conversation I had with my students last week, and I thought of the futures my students still have, dangling, precious, untainted by robbery, sex, drugs– at least as untainted as I try to assume they are.

I thought of how in 20 years that killed man can be one of the students I teach tomorrow morning. And I cry and cry.

I am trying to do this internship log, but thinking of the demographics of my community, of the sub-populations of my school, of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act and what it does or does not mean for my students, it’s stopping me from doing the work I need to do to be a principal. It’s stopping me from thinking I can handle being a principal.

The sparse details of the event can be found in this news article, with the pharmacy’s name spelled wrong.

One Response

  1. daltongoodier

    This breaks my heart. You and Q are in my thoughts.

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