Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge.
– Benjamin Franklin
It should be said, I was ready to go home.
On my way out of school today, I stopped by one of the tables in the hallway near my classroom. Gathering my things, I’d heard some students using their outdoor voices at the table.
I stopped not to tell them to move or repremand them. I started with a simple observation, “You are all sitting within 2 feet of one another.”
A slight smile from one of the students. I went on to bemoan the fact that it was the end of the day and we were all full up on crazy for the time being in that lesser referenced teacher voice that says, “I’m kidding around with you, but truly making a point at the same time.”
My message delivered, one of the students said they’d keep it down. I started to walk away when one of the students who’d been quiet since I’d stopped by said something ugly to another student at the table.
It was one of those moments of stupid. One of those adolescent powerplays meant to show his peers he was grown enough to spit ugly words in front of a teacher. As a former assistant principal of mine once said, he was feeling himself.
In that moment, my simple stop to ask the table to quiet down became something else.
In that moment, I needed to be present. I needed to be caring.
My coat, bag and water bottle in hand, I suggested he and I go for a walk. It took a few suggestions and the encouragment of one of the other students present before aquiesced to my invitation. This was not before he let fly a flurry of words that made a verbal cocktail with the rare quality of being profane without including any profanity.
He would leave, but not without assuring all present that he was the one wielding the power.
We walked a ways down the hall and turned the corner. I’d hoped to make it to another floor, but he had a good 50 lbs and a few inches on me, so I knew not to push my luck.
In these moments, when our students choose not to or are incapable of being the better versions of themselves, we must be the best versions of ourselves.
Standing there, in the hall with the lint of the day stuck to my brain and adored with the accessories of my walk home, I needed to be someone other than a teacher ready to go home.
My tone was soft. My sentences were largely questions. My goal diffusion.
He would have none of it.
“See, she says all of that, and I’m the one in trouble.”
“Who said anything about anyone being in trouble?”
And it continued like that – he intent on being angry and me intent on not.
And, I get this is the role adults must play when they choose to spend their days modeling life for those children in their charge.
We must be present. We must care…even when it’s a drag.
Thus was the internal conversation myself and I were having as sentences like, “What would you expect me to do when two students I love deeply are saying hurtful and ugly things to one another.”
He was having none of it.
Indignation fueled by righteousness can be an intoxicating thing.
One thing he failed to take into consideration, I care for all my students.
In a moment of reciprocity I’m certain Nel Noddings heard wherever she is, one of my students, Lenea, turned at the end of the hall.
The student I was listening to had let loose a particularly baited and patronizing sentence as Lenea passed by.
I’d barely noticed her passing.
That is, until I heard, “You don’t talk to Mr. Chase that way,” in a tone, to that point, I was certain only my mother knew.
Appreciative of the vote of confidence, I kept on, “If someone said something like that about you in my presence, you know I’d take issue with it.”
He was mid-rebuttal when I heard Lenea’s voice, “I’ll talk to him, Mr. Chase.”
I turned to look at her.
She was staring at me with that look that says, “Go along now. Get. I’ve got this covered.” And, I knew she did.
I turned and walked down the hall to attempt to diffuse the other side of the argument.
A few minutes later, I walked back down the hall. Turning the corner, I was ready to re-engage. I couldn’t. They weren’t there.
Lenea had moved him physically (and I’m guessing emotionally) farther than I’d been able.
I’ve been mulling that idea tonight. I’ve considered the ninth grader I met when Lenea first entered my room nearly four years ago. I’m uncertain how many times I’ve hugged her, told her how much I’m proud to teach her and made a point to assure her I see the good she’s created.
What I’m certain of, though, is that all those moments, those pieces of mental and emotional investment, those moments of caring, were worth it.
What I’m certain of is caring is reciprocal.