Sometimes it’s scary teaching school. The first year I taught an eighth grader tried to stab another kid with a compass. (Today students are not allowed to have these sharp pointed compasses in the school building.) I, naïve fool that I was, held out my bare white hand and told the kid to give me the compass. I then sent him to the office for discipline. Lucky for me, he probably thought I was too stupid to bother stabbing in the hand. That kid was white.
Then there was the fine young fellow who slouched down in his seat, glared at me and refused to open his book when I started class. Martin Luther King had been assassinated about a week earlier. I looked the boy in the face, told him I had not changed, I respected him, he should respect me. The kid sat up straight and opened his textbook. This eighth grader was black.
Next incident I recall was a kid talking to some girls out in the hall about molesting children. He had a big grin on his face and was demonstrating the actions. I ordered them to stop and get to their seats in my classroom. It creeped me out, but I couldn’t think of any rules the boy had broken. He was white.
Two girls got in a huge fight on the playground on my watch. Wads of hair were flying, blood flowed. They were both as big as I was and no other teacher stepped up. My yelling “STOP” did not slow down the fight one bit. In fact the other kids got so scared they stepped back, not typically what kids do when a fight breaks out. These girls were black.
A tall skinny kid walked in my classroom. This was sixth grade, but this fellow was already fourteen. He had failed two grades during a time when almost no one was held back. “Gangly boy” slouched in his seat trying to look the same height as everyone else. A few weeks later we had our first parent/teacher conference. His mom and dad came in last looking like they were afraid to speak. When we started talking they told me how angry they were because their son was never encouraged or valued by his previous teachers. Then they both got tears in their eyes. “You are the first teacher who has ever encouraged our son. We know he has some problems, but now he is doing so well in school.” This young man was never good at math, but he was brilliant at reading and understood life. In high school he got attacked by some other kid, and had to defend himself. Based on the standard rules of most schools, both the attacker and “Gangly Boy” both got suspended for fighting. Next step was being charged in court just as they would have been charged if a fight broke out on the street. “Gangly Boy” did nothing wrong except defend himself. This tall young man was white.
The last incident, frozen in my memory forever, was a smart sixth grade boy who always had something insulting or confrontational to say. He would say it with a grin, and knew how to tiptoe on the edge of disrespect without crossing the line. All three of us teachers on the team had problems with him, so I knew it wasn’t just me. We called the parents in for a conference, and Mom came to school. As she walked into the classroom Sonny started mouthing off at me in his offensive way with his offensive smiling face. It was then I said something I have never said in my life, not to any student, not to my own kids. I quietly told him to, “Shut up.” Of course, Mama heard me. She lost it, told me off and stalking down the hall to report me to the principal. When they all got back I apologized profusely. Mama nodded like, “Okay, you are forgiven for attacking my darling son.” The conference was all downhill from there. Sonny never improved. I wonder why? Of course, it was all my fault. I had blown the conference from the get-go. The child’s underlying issues never came out in a way that Mama or Son even took seriously. This good looking, smart kid was black.
We parents like to defend and cheer our kids on when they do well. But the real payoff comes when we discipline, correct, AND encourage. No parents want to wake up one day to realize their child was hurt or even killed because they did not stop the child’s dangerous, wrongful behavior. I personally know parents who have experienced this. Their child is dead or in prison, and the parents have no choice but to carry this burden the rest of their lives.
“Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.” Proverbs 29:17
Here is an example of what we all hope our kids will be.