Just Listen.

It's been an interesting week.

Lately, whenever I feel an urge to write, something quenches it before I can get any words on the page. Kind of frustrating for a girl who stands in front of her students every day reminding them of the importance of story.
This week though, the pull is greater than my hesitancy. U2 is serenading me & thoughts of this past week are bouncing around recklessly inside my head.
I love being a teacher. It is, without a doubt, my calling to take students and inspire them in the best way I can to understand their stories are not only important, but necessary to society. More often than not, the resiliency of these teenagers surprise me.
Scenario One: My AP classes are taking part in a unit that came to me during morning devotionals a couple months ago: Mad as Hell - A Look at Community & the Individual's Responsibility to Poverty & Homelessness. All this week we have been reading and discussing thoughts from other intellectuals. Some who believe we should give 30% of our income straight to donations, others who hold fast to the Darwinian theory of "survival of the fittest." I had the privilege of sharing with them what I have learned over the past year - the importance of aid vs. empowerment. The result? An INCREDIBLE discussion today where I spoke a total of two minutes in each class because the students monopolized most of the talking time. (This is agood thing) The topic? Are we as individuals responsible to those in poverty and those who are homeless?
As always, especially with a discussion over a sensitive issue such as this, the kids amazed me with their insight. Some of my kids mentioned the current housing crisis and how much of the problems stem from banks loaning too much & people buying too extravagantly. Then she spoke. A quiet, happy, vivacious and gentle student who is always waiting for me when I get to school in the morning. With her chin quivering & tears in her eyes, she shared that losing a house does not always depend on the foolishness or laziness of the owner. In her situation, an absent father instigated the foreclosure sign being pushed into the grass outside her front door. The one memory she has of her father is rooted in his swindling money from her mother's bank account, causing them to go bankrupt & eventually lose their house. By the time she finished talking, tears were running freely and the room was completely silent. An eye-opener for some.
Scenario Two: My other classes, in preparation of the TAKS test, have been discussing the power of story. We watched The Freedom Writers, learned the Three Act Structure (thanks, Jason Russell) & played the line game.
We've had some interesting discussions in my classes this week because of this topic. Doesn't surprise me. These kids have so much to say & not many people listen to them. Offer them an ear? Be prepared to listen. After watching the movie, I asked the students how they felt in comparison to the kids at Wilson High. Obviously, we in B-town don't have the issues these kids in LA faced, but my students face some heavy shizz however you slice or dice it.
In one of my classes, a student raised her hand and asked if she could say something. Apparently, she comes from a mixed family. Her mother is Catholic. Her father? Muslim. When she was in middle school, she would wear the traditional Islamic head covering. Every day, after 5th period, a group of boys would kick, punch, push & hit her for no reason - other than what she was wearing. Walking down the halls weren't any different. Words were thrown towards her like knives, and the wounds didn't show until class a couple days ago. Sitting in my room crying after class, she continued to tell me that after she told her dad what happened, he went up to the school to complain. Administration did nothing. This of course, was seen by the boys as a victory. The harassment continued.
Today we played the line game. This will never cease to amaze me. Never. The class broke into two groups - separated by the tile on the floor. Question after question, students stepped up to the line.
Step up to the line if you have seen Friday the 13th
Step up to the line if you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol
Step up to the line if you or someone you know has experienced gang violence
Step up to the line if you have been shot at
Step up to the line if you have lost someone within the past year.
Stay on the line if you have lost two people.
Step up to the line if you know where to get drugs.
Step up to the line if you have lost someone due to drug overdose
Step up to the line if you have experimented with any illegal narcotic
Step up to the line if you or someone you know has been or is currently homeless...
The questions were numerous & silly & personal & heartbreaking. The one I hate asking but always do is "Step up to the line if you have had a teacher tell you that you are stupid."
It never fails. I always have kids step up to the line.
One girl began crying towards the end of the game. She was the only one who stuck close to the wall when asked, "Step up to the line if deep down, in your heart of hearts, you know you could accomplish something great if given the chance." Snotting on my shoulder, she told me that because of this game, she realized how little she thought of herself. I wrote her a note later on in study hall. Something simple - "I believe in you. - Mrs. R"
She stuck it in her binder - right next to a picture of one of her close friends who passed away earlier this year.
This wasn't the only surprise of the day. Of course. After the line game, we came back into the room and continued the questioning. I grabbed a stress ball and threw it at a student - asking a question. The student answered & threw it at someone else, asking this person a different question. The atmosphere was palpable. There were a few times some students were close to tears, and there were a lot of laughs - but the most important thing? In every class, the students left a family.
These next few weeks will determine how close those familial bonds have welded together.
I've said all this for a number of reasons.
If you have kids - listen to them. They want to talk. In my 7th period, one of my students I had two years ago turned around in his desk and looked at me.
"Mrs. Ramirez, could you get every teacher to do this?"
I laughed. "Why do you say that? You wanting some blow-off classes or something?"
He smiled. "No. Not at all. It's just...you? You're trying to reach us. The other teachers just stand in front of us & talk. They don't listen."
They don't listen.
Makes me wonder. How many kids are out there who just want someone to listen to their story?
Posted on March 9, 2009 .