Last week, I subbed for Mrs. S., social studies teacher. At the beginning of 6th period, a young man came in. When he saw I was a sub, he introduced himself to me. I must say, that is exceedingly rare. There are whole days when I sub for about a hundred kids, and not one introduces himself.
“Hi, I’m Taylor,” he said. “We just came out here from Minnesota.”
“Pleased to meet you, Taylor from Minnesota. I’m Ms. T.”
His class turned out to be one of the not-so-great ones that day, because some young man took it upon himself to liberate some candy from a bin the teacher kept in the corner. I turned around to find an open bin half fallen over, and three boys frozen in place, looking at me wide-eyed. I spent the rest of class periodically urging the row nearest the candy to do the right thing.
Toward the end of class, a student in the row next to the candy suspects asked, “Were we good?”
“You would have been fine, except for the candy incident.”
“Oh, that was Isaac.”
Isaac, one of my three prime suspects, neither confirmed nor denied the accusation, and the bell rang with me still not fully convinced.
After class, I happened to see Taylor from Minnesota kneeling on the floor in front of his locker, gathering his books. I squatted down next to him and asked quietly, “Hey, Taylor, did you see who took the candy?” I had seen him throwing me meaningful glances in class, and I even scanned his worksheet when he turned it in to see if he had written me a note, but nothing. He looked all around, to make sure he wouldn’t be seen talking to me, and whispered, “It was Isaac.” I thanked him and added his testimony, anonymously, to my note for the teacher.
Today, I saw Taylor again, in a last-period science class full of kids who would not shut up. It was hot in the room, but I had kept the windows closed because of a noisy construction project outside. Turns out the kids were noisy enough to drown out the jackhammers. When they started to complain about the heat, I saw my chance.
“Okay,” I said, “if you can be quiet for one minute, I’ll open a window.”
They could literally not be quiet for one second. Not one. As soon as a kid made a noise, another kid called out his name, setting off a chain reaction of noise. Then someone said, “One window won’t make a difference, we might as well talk.”
In the midst of the chaos, Taylor raised his hand for help. I helped him on a question, then got called away by a child wanting a bathroom pass. Another one threw pieces of crayon every time I turned my back. Then I tried to quiet a fight. Then I scolded a boy who had not been in his seat more than a minute at a time. Taylor sat there patiently with his hand in the air. I helped him on another question, but the same whirlwind of distraction pulled me away. Finally, the class ended. Most of the students tumbled out the door as fast as possible, but as I straightened their pile of papers, I saw Taylor still in his chair.
“Can you help me now?”
The poor kid was literally unable to work with the noise and distraction around him, and unable to get the help he needed because I was stretched too thin, trying to keep thirty kids on task. He sat in class twenty minutes after the bell rang and patiently finished his work, the work he could not do because of the inconsiderate, disrespectful fools surrounding him, him and the other handful of kids who cared. How wrong is this, that learning could not take place in class? How many other kids just gave up when he persevered? Kids like Taylor are the exception, not the rule.
And I found myself wanting to tell Taylor’s family from Minnesota, get him out of here. Get him into a public magnet school, or a private school, or a better district, because it doesn’t really get much better here until students can be in all honors classes. Maybe 10th, 11th grade. He’s in 8th now. How long will it take for a kid like Taylor to just give up, to say it’s not worth it, and to start behaving like the rest of the troublemakers? And what a sad loss would that be?