Friday, January 27, 2012

What Do I Have in My Pocketses?

Several years I worked with a third grade student named Enrico Jimenez.  Enrico was a short chubby kid who wore a puffy winter coat that made him look like an almost perfect sphere.  Every day he would see me and ask, "Hey, can I show you something?"  The items that emerged from the jacket never ceased to amaze me.  Everything from rubber lizards to party favors would be yanked out of one of his pockets once I'd given my (slightly nervous) permission to share.  I had spoken to his father on a few occasions who insisted that they had taken everything away from him because of bad behavior and he had no idea where these things came from (which only amused me more). 

One of my favorites was when Enrico asked me one morning if had problems with my dry wall (a slightly odd question from a third grader to put it mildly).  Before I could answer he said, "cause if you do, call these guys" and from his winter jacket he produced a business card for some dry wall guy; the card being held up for me to take between his pointer and middle finger like a used car salesman.

Unfortunately, Enrico didn't have a very happy life.  His mom wasn't in the picture and his father had just been released from prison.  Enrico would have emotional breakdowns which included violent unmanageable tantrums.  He would cry and scream for hours, throw things, and try to run out of the school.  This eventually led to his being placed in an ED/BD classroom which only made his outbursts more frequents (and more accepted...). 

Eventually, I had to bring his father in to talk about these behaviors.  When he came in, he very politely told me that he saw all the same problems at home and didn't know what to do with him.  He went on to say that he had just got out of prison, was trying to get his own life back on track, had just got a job, and could not be bothered with phone calls from the school & requests to come in to meet with staff.  Enrico's dad let me know that he had nothing to offer by way of suggestions, and that while he was at school he was our problem.  If we had to suspend him, expel him, etc., he understood but to please not bother him anymore.  He then shook my hand and left.   

We were left with an emotional time bomb and little resources to manage his breakdowns other than punishment.  His teacher was wonderful and loved him, but with other students was limited in terms of how much she could help him let alone teach him.

At least Enrico's dad was honest.  "He's your problem." In so many instances the parents give the impression they care when they don't, or perhaps defend behaviors blindly while driving a wedge between the school and home. 

These complicated situations are becoming more and more common. There are no obvious solutions (maybe no solutions at all...).  Standardized tests do not accurately reflect the effort and quality of work a teacher puts in with a child like this, nor does it accurately reflect the child's progress.  Yet at year's end, this teacher would be considered, on paper, to have failed Enrico.  This is unfair.

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