Student Off Stage

I teach five periods a day. In addition, there is one period where I am assigned to do something around the school. For this school year, I have been in the auditorium during “0” period (the first of the day).
My main job is to sit in the auditorium, tell students to sit down and remove their hats. It is thrilling. And fulfilling. You can only imagine. During the magical time of 7:40 to 8:24, I sit on the stage and watch the students filter in. My main hope is that they will stay sleepy and not cause any problems. I am quite content to see them calmly ease into the day. This part of my job is generally easy. There has yet to be a fight and the students generally respond when I ask them to take off their hat. So, I use the time to go on the computer (blog), mark papers, review lesson plans, etc.
Something has occurred during this placid time of the day which I did not plan for. There are a few students that sit on the stage with me every day. We did not talk about it. They simply chose to do so. We talk about school, life – whatever is on our mind. This type of banter is my favorite part of being a teacher. When students are outside of the classroom and you engage them in one-on-one conversation or in small groups, they are different people. No longer do they feel the need to impress their classmates. It’s often like you are meeting a kid for the first time. He may certainly resemble the student you have in the classroom but there are differences. Good differences.
Tyrel is one of the students who sits with me on the stage every morning. He is an 11th grader. He was a member of my class in the Fall of his 10th grade year. He did reasonably well in the class. We had occasional clashes as he could be moody and temperamental. When we crossed paths during the Spring term, we would exchange a brief “hey.”
Now, Tyrel is a regular on the stage. He walks serenely down the aisle, shakes my hand, wishes me a good morning, and then proceeds to put his backpack down and eat his breakfast. Sometimes we talk – about homework, our weekend, whatever. Sometimes, we don’t. Yesterday, Tyrel told me he was having a challenging term. He will be attending a family reunion in the Caribbean with 11 of his mother’s siblings and their families. This upcoming trip was exciting for him and challenging him in terms of concentration.
When the bell rang, he and the others said good bye and headed off to their classes. The next time I saw Tyrel he was in the dean’s office. He was explaining an incident that happened earlier in the day. The long and short of it is that he hit a fellow student, Malik, in the head with a pipe. Malik was bleeding and was ultimately taken to the hospital. Apparently Malik had stolen something from Tyrel last term, was making fun of TYREL’s family, and was acting like he was going to steal something else. I happen to know MALIK: he is immature and not overly bright.
Tyrel calmly retold this story, aware of what he did wrong. He said he couldn’t take it anymore and was tired of hearing it. Before I went back to my classroom, I spoke to TYREL privately. I told him I was sorry about all that had happened. I hoped he would be okay. And I would be a character witness for him.
While walking back to my classroom, I was shaking my head. What will happen to Tyrel? How could he lose it like that? I thought I knew him. He’s not that kind of person. I am worried for my students.
*Please note names have been changed.

47 thoughts on “Student Off Stage

  1. People aren’t always who you think they are and often surprise you! Good or bad. Tyrel will find his way, just keep the lines of communication open. that’s what he needs – someone to talk to & someone to listen!

      • I don’t really think this is a case of, “people [not] always [being] who [we] think they are.” I believe that Tyrel snapped. We all have breaking points, it’s just that some of us have more restraints, or our explosions might be different or less detectable. You mentioned that he’s from the Caribbean: a place where family honor is VERY important. It might have been easier (not easy) for Tyrel to accept being personally insulted, but not his family— especially at this point when the feeling of camaraderie among family members is inevitably at its peak. Note the lines from an old-school dancehall song/rap:
        “Badman a badman, fool is a fool/ Gangsta nuh tek sorry, nor just cool/ If yuh dis [you disrespect] the family, yuh broke the first rule/ And mi wi [I will] … pop off my tool.”

        Tool here specifically means a gun, but that does not necessarily mean that the gun has to be the weapon of choice. Do all Caribbean people respond in this fashion? Certainly not. However, the need to defend ones family honor is a sentiment that runs high in most Caribbean communities.

  2. very touching and sad story. I hope things work out…would not want to be the dean/principal dealing with that situation ( or probably most situations in school today)

  3. Wow! So much on a teacher’s plate these days. Maybe it was like that when I was in school too but just wasn’t aware of it. I’m sure it wasn’t to the magnitude that it is today. I highly commend teachers of the now, past and future. It sure is one tough job and so much to shoulder. Good job on trying to make a difference!

    • Thanks for your empathy. Sometimes it feels like the learning part is the least of the issues. However, you can not lose focus on that.

  4. Love that you are quietly there for your students. I love to watch the journey Mr. T takes with his teachers every year, and see which ones he’ll connect with, which ones he’ll tolerate and which ones we just have to make it through the year with! There is so much more to teaching than just standing in front of the blackboard and it sounds like your students have connected with you – how amazing it is to touch all of those lives. Even if you can’t fix this specific situation, it sounds like you can be a guiding light.

    • Having a good teacher can make a tremendous different to a kid. When asked about a class, many students’ first answer will revolve around their like/dislike fo the the teacher. It should not be important how he/she feels about the teacher but it is. I think I am a decent teacher but I do care very much about my students. That generally comes through and it can help me to help them ways that are not black and white.

      • I have discovered that it is very important in our life if my student likes his teacher. He does so much better in the classes in which he connects with the teacher. And, he does awful in the classes where he doesn’t like the teacher. In MS we had a soft spoken teacher for English. About drove T nuts. His grades slipped cause he had such a hard time paying attention to her. So, while, theoretically, no, it shouldn’t matter, they should be able to learn no matter if they like the teacher or not, that’s so not how it’s worked for my child. (I do make him stick it out thought, cause dealing with personality conflicts are a part of life.) Okay, typing way too much about ME on YOUR blog! I think that caring about the students will come through, they can tell, and it will help them pay attention and learn better if they feel the compassion. Just my humble opinion!

        • Don’t be silly – go off. I enjoy the back and forth.
          What you are saying about your child is what I see in the mass majority of students – their feelings for the teacher are a prime indicator of how they will perform in my class.
          I am able to have good rapport with the mass majority of my students. However, I am not a great disciplinarian – not my style. Anyway, not as many students do the work and pass the class as I would like (actually I want all of them too) yet nearly all of them greet me in the hallways even after they are no longer a member in my class. I can only hope that I have helped them in some way even if it is not academic.

          • The fact that they greet you in the hallway, even after they aren’t in your class, is a BIG indicator that you are making a difference in their lives where it matters.

          • Like you, I do think it is a good indicator. However, I want more – always do. It can be a curse and a blessing. Believe me.

          • I would agree that it is important for a student to like or at least respect his/her teacher in order to do well. I would also agree, from Larry’s perspective and my own, that the converse is not necessarily true. A student can like/respect his/her teacher and still do poorly for many reasons. Unfortunate, but still the case.

  5. I hope everything will go better for Tyrel, it’s unfortunate how these things happen, to very good people because they get tired of people making fun of them. I am glad he has someone like you, great teachers are good listeners and good observers!

  6. Hi Larry,

    I read this post and as it’s been a long time since I commented on your blog, I thought I would respond a bit.

    I certainly relate to the point you made about how students, particularly male students, but not exclusively, can act so differently in and out of the classroom towards teachers. I remember it well.

    That is an unfortunate, though sadly not surprising, scenario you described about “Tyrel.” It’s so interesting and complex, because I am quite sure that Tyrel knew that what he was about to do was wrong and illegal when he struck at Malik. I don’t thing this was a temperamental, completely spontaneous outburst. He thought about it a bit, and decided to do it. Too many of our kids have this kind of ethic or they lack or a strong inner voice which urges them to act less destructively/ self-destructively to right a wrong. Then like Tyrel, they end up in a worse predicament than the original one imposed my Malik. Hang in there!

    • Good to hear from you.
      Outside of the class & away from the glare of their classmates, kids can be a truer version of themself.
      Im sure he knew as well but his self restraint isnt what we would like it to be & he didnt think about the consequences.

    • Hey Danny,
      How are you? I know you must be travelling around the world as we speak. Regarding this unfortunate incident, I know you could be right, but if you look at my response to ‘mylifeuphere’ you’ll see a different way of assessing the incident.

      • Hi, is this Beverly?

        Hope you are doing well. Yes, I read some of the responses. My own comment did not necessarily take issue with any of them. I am very aware that cultural values play a part in anyone’s response. But let’s face it, we can’t always permit them to act in violent ways. Where would we be if we did? As a matter of fact, we already know.

        • LOL….What gave me away, Danny?
          Please don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t giving Tyrel an excuse for his behavior, I was just pointing to another possible motivation for his behavior. What did Atticus Finch say again? LOL.

          • Hi Beverley,

            I just took a wild guess! Of course, I know you and I know you would have never excused or condoned this. Thanks for adding your perspective on this. Cultural, as well as personal values definitely play into incidents like this. My best. Danny

  7. I’m sorry he made a bad choice, but I think we have all felt the urge to knock someone in the head. I hope it comes out okay for him!

  8. My first year as a teacher was particularly traumatic. The school’s bully hit a student one time too many (I guess) and he retaliated by hitting him with a stone. The result: One student dead, the other damaged for the rest of his life. I always use this incident to encourage my students to avoid trouble by sometimes giving away their right for peace’s sake. Weird, Kenny Rogers just pop into my head, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,/ Know when to walk away and know when to run.” Hopefully, next time he’ll run (to you or some other school official).

    • Great to hear from you Greg.
      That is a terrible stor you shared. I hope the students you share this story with learn from it. Know when to fold ’em is right.

  9. Hi,
    It seems as if Tyrel is going through a maturation process and is looking for something solid to hold onto. He sees in you someone he can trust. He sought you out. Continue to be as opened as you are. You don’t need to pressure him because he will open up one day and tell you. I believe that.
    The fact that he continued to speak to you after he left your class, when he encountered you in the hallway lets me know that he sees you as trustworthy. Just keep the doors open to you.
    He knows that you are there for him and I trust you to do what you have to do at the right time, whatever that may be.
    Thanks for sharing this. I believe you are a wonderful teacher and many of the students see that, even if you don’t.


    • I hope I will see Tyrel soon. He may have to transfer due to this incident. While I would be sad to see him go, this would be a much lesser punishment than he could of had.
      I think I am a decent teacher when it comes to conveying the subject matter and discipline. However, I think I am very good when it comes to empathy towards students. I am excellent at building rapport.

  10. I think you’re seeing a part of him when he sits near you in the morning. The other side has everything to do with peer pressure and how he was raised. Hopefully, you’ll be able to spend that morning time with me to help him understand how his actions have consequences. I think teen’s don’t get that point and it seems like he’s feeling a connection with you as his teacher. Good luck on that one!

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