Saturday, December 10, 2005

The New Kids

A new student, Kevin, was placed in my special ed English class last week. There are three weeks left of the semester. Kevin immediately announced to the class that he'd been "locked up." He seemed proud of it. It was as if he were announcing to the class that he was their new leader. So last week was pretty much about Kevin screaming at me, trying to assert his power, while no one learned. Some of Kevin's comments were personally abusive toward me. At times like this, it's hard to find a positive side, but I finally found it yesterday.

Before Kevin arrived, Tanysha was my most challenging student. Tanysha had arrived half-way into the semester. After a month of yelling, Tanysha finally settled down when I told her she could use the class computer. She began typing away. She typed for hours. When I printed her writing and read it, all the yelling made sense. She had written about her mom's recent murder. Troubled kids sometimes make things like this up, so I checked out the story, hoping it wasn't true. Sadly, it was.

I gave Tanysha an A on her writing, and she walked around clutching the paper for weeks. She would show everyone the A, but I was the only one she would let read the paper. I asked her if she wanted to write more, and she said she did. I recommended Tanysha for counseling, but our school building has one part-time counselor for over a hundred students who are mandated for counseling. Since Tanysha is not on the list of students mandated for counseling, she may not get seen. This school system is infuriating. I went to the assistant principal's office distraught over the situation. He told me that I needed to "toughen up," and he has yet to do anything to attempt to get Tanysha counseling. "Toughen up." This from a man who's never taught special education students and who called one of my students a "throwaway kid."

Oh yeah, back to trying to find the positive side of Kevin entering the class (it's so easy to get lost in the negative here). Well, Kevin's screaming could have gone on for a month, just as Tanysha's had. I quickly learned that Kevin spent most of his childhood moving from home to home within the Bronx foster care system, so I thoroughly expected more screaming from him. But on Friday, Tanysha quickly put Kevin in his place when he started screaming at me again.

"You can't yell at my teacher," she yelled. "Only I can yell at my teacher!"

For the first time, Kevin shut up. Tanysha went on, "My teacher helped me! If you stop your screaming she can help you too 'cause you obviously got issues!"

Wow. Pretty powerful what can happen when you give a troubled kid a keyboard.

For the first time in a week, we got through our English lesson.


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