June 14, 2020
As always, these views are my own.
Let’s just cut to the chase: Luke felt targeted by the administration at his high school. Now, read this carefully. I am not saying he was; I am saying this is how he felt. But as I always tell people- a child’s perception is all that matters.
I have had my own students over the years that I am not sure felt the love the way I wanted them to. One of them in particular, whom I adored, really struggled with understanding anyone’s else’s point of view. He was diagnosed ADHD and ODD, had difficulty with peer relationships and authority, and anytime he didn’t like what I had to say to him, which was often, he would respond, “Why you always want to fight with me, Mrs. Inwood?” ? Now, we weren’t *fighting* lol, but at nine that was how he described confrontation or debate. Those were the feelings elicited when he struggled to accept something he didn’t agree with. And again, that’s all that matters. I worked my hiney off with this kiddo… he was post losing Luke -which makes me try harder…. but I am not sure I reached him.
Now my Luke did not make the situation between himself and teachers and administration any easier. And I know how hard it is to not lose your cool when confronted with a sneer and a smart remark. But two events are forever burned in my memory and have shaped me as an educator ever since.
Game Changer Number One. Luke had this teacher, let’s call her Mrs. Smith. Now Mrs. Smith had been a teacher for a good many years at Wachusett, but I am not sure anything could have prepared you for Luke Inwood, lol. From Day One, Luke and *Mrs. Smith* did not get along. She was old school and wanted him to fall in line and do what he was told and not sass her about it. Sigh. So THAT didn’t happen. Next thing I know, I am being asked to go to school to have a meeting with said teacher and Luke and a school administrator – also not one of Luke’s favorite people. Actually, let’s just say it. It was the admin he felt so targeted by. So, here the four of us are, sitting around a table for what I understand to be an opportunity for us to have a discussion around how to solve this relationship problem and get Luke through this class. But that isn’t what happened. For, I don’t know, maybe ten or fifteen minutes, it felt like a lifetime, Mrs. Smith sat there and berated Luke. Went on about how horrible he was in her class and all his shortcomings and how if he didn’t fix it, well, that was his problem. What did I do? Shamefully, nothing. #IHaveRegrets. I want to tell you I was in shock. And I was. Who talks to a child this way? A student? None of us said anything, really, after that. Luke mumbled something about trying to do better and we got up and left. We walked down a set of stairs and when we got to the bottom, I stopped, looked at Luke and said, “Wow. You were right. She IS a bitch.” I told him to try and have a good day ’cause THAT was going to happen and headed out to my car. All I could think of was if that was how she spoke to Luke in front of his mother, in front of her boss, what kind of barrage was he facing in the classroom behind closed doors? It made me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. I honestly don’t remember what happened after that. I think we pulled Luke from the class. Or maybe he failed that one. We never confronted Wachusett about it, I can tell you that. We chalked it up to Luke being an incredibly difficult student and what could you expect to happen? UGH. I feel sick just typing the words.
And unfortunately, *Mrs. Smith* was not the only one Luke had issues with. In his mind, of course, it was all the fault of the teachers. I know better, of course, having had the pleasure of interacting with some of the educators who truly tried to reach Luke where he was. But perception is everything. And Luke had his.
Game Changer Number Two. It is March 11th. It is a Wednesday. How do I know? Kept the emails that followed. :/ So, I arrive home and make my way upstairs to change out of my school clothes. I know Luke is in the house because the Altima is in the driveway, but he wasn’t in the basement. As I top the stairs I look left and there he is. Laying in his bed, just shaking. His whole body is vibrating.
“What’s going on, bud?” I ask him and make my way into his room.
“I have never felt so much rage in my whole life,” he tells me. ” I feel like my heart is going to explode out of my chest!” He is clearly distraught and tells me about a run-in with admin over d-halls and other infractions and we will never know what else. I am desperately afraid for him and his mental health at that moment. I’m also not sure I am going to be able to get him back to school. He is that angry. And hurt. And disheartened. What is a parent to do?
Well, you write an email. John reached out to school about how outrageous it was they they were beating Luke down this way. Because that’s how he felt. Beaten down. But the email we get back does not address our son as an individual, as a child who clearly doesn’t look like the other students; nor does it try to meet him where he is . It is, quite simply, more of the same. Thank you for not helping.
So, the next day Luke goes to school. He goes to school. This in itself is worth something. And then he goes to D-Hall that afternoon to satisfy the system. He is THERE. And you know what happens? He gets in trouble. He gets in trouble because he didn’t bring work with him. “And as a senior he should know better.” That is a quote friends, from the email I receive that night warning me that if Luke doesn’t bring work to the d-hall, that he is finally showing up to, HE WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE and issued another d-hall. Because you can’t make this sh*t up! So you tell me…. if you are Luke Inwood… how are YOU feeling at this moment? We all know the answer to the question. Four weeks later, he is gone.
So here’s what I need you to know: Now, don’t get your knickers in a knot. Are you blaming the school for what happened, Miss Patty? No. No, I am not. A lot of factors came into play losing Luke, but there is no denying high school had its role. But you know I like to say, when we know better we do better. So what’s better? We can’t simply be punitive in the education system. Behind every behavior is something and it is our job in school to do our darndest to figure out what the *something* is. I had the opportunity to go into my district high school and share my story and my thoughts about this and it was a fantastic experience and I believe it helped give the people present perspective. I will gladly visit your high school, TOO, to spread my message: No child gets up in the morning and says “Today, I am going to go in and really going to F*@# with that teacher.” That is Never the case. They get in there and talk themselves into a bad situation and then we back them up into a corner and like a caged animal, they don’t always make the best choices. They feel trapped. They lash out. WE have to be the adults. Remember that student I shared with you earlier? Well, every once in a while I would have to look at him and say to myself, “Breathe, Inwood. He’s nine. You’re fifty. You have strategies to deal with this. He does not”. And then I would give myself a time out, lol. Or call for back-up. I love my school psychologist. Or talk to his parents. Or sometimes I would just hug him. And he would be so shocked lol, he would roll his eyes and giggle and we would get passed it. Or sometimes we wouldn’t. But we need to remember who the adult is and who is the child. And they maybe six feet tall, with facial hair and a potty mouth, but on the inside… they are six. They are children. They are somebody’s baby. And he was mine. #NotOneMore