September 14, 2007


"Miss, what if I was in jail?"

That came completely out of nowhere. I walked over to the student, who the night before called me a bucking fitch*, wondering what in the world he was talking about.

"Would you like me to come visit you?"

"No I don't want YOU to come visit me, " he said with a teeth-smacking/gawd sound.

"Then, why do you ask? What are you getting at?"

"This assignment." He points to the warm-up from the first night. (Yea. I know. First night! Don't get me started.) "I was in jail."

"Well, if you recall, we talked about how 'My Summer Vacation' is really a lame topic, so you are actually supposed to write a lie. Write about what you would have liked to have done instead."

"So, I don't have to write about what I really did?"

"Did you spend the summer in jail?"

"Yea, and I DON'T wanna be writin' about that."

I joked with him a little, "Are you sure you don't want to write about sitting in jail all summer?"

"No way!"

"I'm sure you can come up with a lot of things you wish you could have been doing instead."

This exchange might sound like a typical exchange I have with my high school students on any given night as I help them brainstorm on their writing topics. Yes, I am on my feet around the room and on my knees at their level giving them encouragement all night long, but this particular exchange wasn't about the topic of the warm-up.


It was a judgment test for the teacher. That is, it is a test to see if I am going to be another judgmental adult.

It's an interesting test I have to go through each year. Students reveal things about themselves that I would not have been comfortable doing when I was a teen. Then they stand back and observe my reaction. Some students are a little over the top and flaunt their "unique" qualities in front of the whole class. However, in general, most students are more discreet and reveal their tests to me in the form of writing or in side conversations between classes.

So far this year I've had two students come out of the closet and another reveal that her mother is mentally ill. (These were all my middle schoolers.) Granted, the two lesbians are already out of the closet to their classmates, but they assumed I didn't know. And I only kind of knew because I don't really keep track the love lives of students, except that one of the girls had some major drama going on last year, and we can't help but keep track of that. (You know, it scares us teachers when we see such young teens in dysfunctional relationships already.)

Oh! One of my students also revealed that he'd spent most of his summer at some sort of lawyer-in-training camp, too. That one was hard to swallow. Okay, I'm joking about that one. But in reality, I judged him the same as the others. For the most part. The kid who needs to be on a language improvement plan and spent his summer in jail worries me, but if he's taking his life more seriously, I only have hope for him--no judgment.

I'd like to say I never judge my students, but you know I do it all the time. I judge the quality of their work and their performances in my class. I question their reasonings and push them to consider different perspectives nearly everyday. I guess because they expect me to judge them in these academic ways that they think I might judge them in the personal ways that they are themselves trying to deal with.

I'm flattered that my students seek out my acceptance, but I'm it makes me sad to think that they are constantly feeling people out for acceptance rather just being who they are and living.

Easy for me to say, aye? I'm not a teenager.

*Edited for my dad. I know you might be wondering what circumstances would allow this kid to live--let alone come to my class again--after his affectionate terms, but I think a rant on that might subject might be too dooce-able. Talk amongst yourselves.

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