and it was kind of awful, but it turned out ok.
The first time I handed out grades in the fall I had a new experience. Upon seeing his grade, one of my male students (we'll call him Larry) put his head down on his desk and cried. He literally had tears running down his face.
Larry is a sweet, sensitive, likable kid. The first month of school he told me "My mama says I'm a good boy!" at least three times--without the tiniest trace of irony or facetiousness. Larry follows directions and attempts his assignments, but he has some serious academic weaknesses. He writes poorly and his confidence and grit are extremely low.
When he saw his grade, he was crushed. He thought he was doing well...and he was mostly, except that I didn't realize the depth of his writing issues yet and his first essay was an unmitigated disaster. It was also the first major grade of the semester and it tanked his overall percentage.
Since then, he has improved markedly. I have worked hard to scaffold extended writing tasks for him and provide some additional instruction and individual support for writing. He has worked hard and it shows. His first benchmark exam in September, Larry scored Below Basic. Last week, he scored Proficient.
And he smiled so hard I thought his face would break right in half.
This story, though, isn't really about him. It's about one of his friends (let's call him Stevie).
Stevie is Larry's opposite in most ways. Stevie is academically proficient. He is also non-compliant, angry, confrontational, and negative. And for some reason, he likes me.
Stevie has never intentionally tried to hurt my feelings, belittle my class, or seriously disrupt a lesson. All things he has done repeatedly in some other classes. He has also never really tried to pass my class or even participate appropriately on a regular basis.
Larry and Stevie are best friends. They hang out together before school. They have told me they lie to girls for each other ("No, Larry doesn't have a girlfriend. Honest."). Stevie cuts class to wait for Larry. He protects his friend no matter the cost to himself.
Under all that angst and hurt and lashing out, Stevie has enormous heart.
So when Larry started crying, and I tried to figure out how to respond. It was Stevie who stood up for his friend. He looked up at me and said simply "Ms. Hirsch, you just ruined his whole day."
He didn't yell at me or make excuses or hide from the truth. He wasn't even really blaming me. He just wanted me to know that I had hurt both of them.
I sat down with Larry and helped him understand he and his grade were going to be ok. And believe me, I almost started crying that child was so upset.
But the part of this that has stuck with me, that really was a good thing, was that insight into Stevie. He showed me a glimpse of his best self I might otherwise not have seen.
Every time I want to strangle Stevie--which is at least once a week--every time he tries to skip a class by sitting in my empty classroom, every time he refuses to take off his hat, every time he sneers at accomplishment or academic success, I think about how much he cares about his friend and it helps me care about him.