Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 09/28/2014

A broken kid and a broken nose

9878284This is my third year as an Alternative Education teacher.  I work in the urban core, Anytown, USA.  My job is challenging and emotionally draining. It’s probably my excessive, God-given energy that makes me a perfect fit for this job.  Best job I’ve ever had. And yes, I take that emotional “work” home with me.  This isn’t a job you can check at the door until tomorrow.

One of the best things about my job is that I get to be tutor, keeper of the peace, confidant and sometimes the bad guy, sometimes the cashier for a kid who needs a snack, sometimes the radar for middle school nonsense that hasn’t even started yet. I’ve developed that sixth sense that tells me that one/two/three knuckleheads are concocting some kind of mischief.   I also play referee on the rare times that there is a fight in my room.  I cannot help myself from jumping in the middle of it. I must look absolutely ridiculous, grabbing at shirtsleeves, yelling “Stop” (you can only imagine how effective those solutions are).  I walk a thin line, wanting, no, having to have a relationship with these kids in order to get at what has damaged him/her that manifests itself in behaviors that are not congruent with life in the regular classroom. Many kids are broken. But that relationship part?  Essential.  You have to win their trust.  Let them know they matter,  Then and only then can the real conversation begin.

There is nothing as heartbreaking as a broken thirteen-year old boy.

Today, I had the privilege of being part of a young man’s struggle.  Knowing he’s broken.  He feels as though his teachers’ don’t care much about him. Framing it in his adolescent words, he feels as though his reputation now precedes him—- granted, he’s kind of rough around the edges.  He’s no choirboy.  Nor is he a kid that should be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage making him feel as though he’s got nobody in his corner.  There’s that potential piece that can’t be lost sight of or the kid is left to circle the drain

He’s grown up in the inner city.  Where gunfire lights up the night.  Where robbery is common.  Where even having enough food on the dinner table is sketchy.  Where he wolfs down his lunch and asks for more. His mom has cancer.  Some smart-mouthed bully talked about his “mama” and her cancer in a disparaging way several years ago.  That kid walked away with a broken nose and several broken ribs.  A broken nose meets a broken kid.

He’s scared.  Oh, he’d never say that.  He’s been shot twice.  Fired at four times.  I tried to stay away from the “That’s not true, the teachers like you….” drivel, knowing that he would shut down if I got all let-me-tell-you-how-incorrect-your-feelings-are kind of preachy.  So I let the conversation find it’s own path….meandering around, with the luxury of time in our favor.  At one point, I asked him if he was happy.  He looked me square in the eyes and with a faltering voice, said softly, “Mrs. Dickinson, I have to be.  It’s all I got left.” Quietly shrugging his shoulders, then looking down, almost imperceptibly shaking his head.

The indiscriminate trajectory of stray bullets is no way to live a life.  Those bullets intrude on the safety of home.  He says it’s just part of living in the ‘hood.   A year in jail at 12.  I know what the inside of juvenile jail is like.  I have been there, for a class I took in juvenile crime.  Iron Bars, the echoing of screaming kids filled with pain and rage, chipped metal beds, some of the kids with no bed, just a filthy mattress on the floor, the sound of the silent despair reverberating.  And if I were a betting woman, I would guess that a stint there changed some kids, but not in the way we would like.

He doesn’t pull any punches.  He freely admitted that he spent all of his sixth grade year in jail.  Seventh grade in and out of JDC.  “Piss-tested” countless times.  Lots of weed in sixth grade.  Alcohol usage.  But he was “always with two other adults at his house so they knew I was okay.”  Adults???

 So many people in his life who show him what he isn’t.  What he can’t be.

This kid has embedded himself in my heart.  I’m no miracle worker but it’s only September and optimism is my middle name.  Time enough to take small steps to pull this kid out of the hole he’s in.  Who knows?  I may either yank him out of this hole or just manage to throw him a rope, but I’m not going to cop to the “You can’t save everyone” mantra so common in what I do.  I will try.

And I will try until.

Or as Yoda said, “There is no try.”

A broken system, a broken nose and a broken boy.

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