Sam Wilson: Revolution Is The Only Solution
It’s been a minute, so where should I start? Today was a day unlike any I have experienced. It starts with a class I’m teaching, social skills. This class is something I came up with. I teach self-contained special ed English. Kids with learning disabilities and behavior disorders who need a small class setting to be taught the general English curriculum. One semester to teach kids with learning disabilities Shakespeare, a novel, nonfiction, persuasive writing, grammar, all the while preparing them for a state standardized test; needless to say corners need to be cut and the time investment required to make these students successful is simplified to the extent very few remain functional and the majority do a little worse than fall through the cracks. They fall flat on their faces, give up, and in frustration wreak havoc and lash out at everything and everyone. Is this their fault? Yes, to an extent, but at the same time systemic dysfunction in public education is vastly responsible for their neglect, in their minds what other options do they have? This is where my social skills class comes in.
Social skills is a handpicked class of many of the students in my self-contained literature class and some other high needs students, some behavioral, some academic, who all needed an extra semester of one-on-one attention to help them become functional high school students. These are students who don’t bring pencils and paper to class, read at maybe a 1st or 2nd grade level (some better, some worse, and they are all in high school), and have an excessive amount of school absences or tardy to class marks (a few of them are on the verge of being kicked out). I’ve had most of them in class at one point or another, and some of them I have back to back in social skills and another lit class in the period before. It’s my job, a job I volunteered for, to get them back on track. To get them to focus on one thing, to read better, write better, function better as students and decrease their disciplinary referrals, to be that adult in life that believes in them and cares about them when everyone else has written them off and wants nothing to do with them. Most adults talk about them like they talk about a distasteful meal, being condescending and dismissive at the same time. I really dislike those people but that is another conversation.
So I’ve been plugging along with this, and I find myself constantly rewriting my playbook. If grammar and basic skills aren’t working, I try and figure out what works for them to make them more functional. Eric clearly needs a father figure; he gets fathered (many of them do, but whatever). Isabelle has Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autism) and has trouble spitting out sentences but her mind goes a million miles and hour and she has a ton to say. She needs patience and someone to listen to her. Finally there is Jimmy, no teacher in the school has any love for him. He is a known drug dealer and at one point last semester had skipped so much class he was going to be withdrawn. I had him as a freshman, we had our moments but at the end of the day we had an understanding. If he worked I would pass him, and no matter what he did the next day was always a new day. I’m better with him than most, and in a way this story is about him.
Today I discovered a graphic novel I brought for one of my students to read was stolen. It was from my own personal collection, a giant, encyclopedia sized hardcover of spider-man comics. It was for a student who has so much anxiety he can’t eat lunch in the cafeteria so he has to eat in the classroom, and for the life of him he hasn’t done one once of schoolwork in quite some time (I have documentation to prove this). He does like comic books though, and in an effort to get him to focus on one thing for more than 20 minutes I brought the giant spider man book for him to read. I told him we would start slow, sit and read for 20 minutes at a stretch and we will build from that. It wasn’t going as smoothly as planned but I think I was making headway. Then I discovered some kids who used my room in an afterschool program trashed my room and stole the book. I was pretty defeated after that happened. It wasn’t about the book, it was the fact I would have loaned the book to any kid who would have asked me. All my students know that. The young man who was reading the book? He was pretty upset. He literally turned the room upside down looking for the book before we decided it was stolen. Not knowing what to do I kinda shut down. I thought I was doing everything in my power to help, and this is what I get for my efforts. After school I was walking to my car and Jimmy, the known drug dealer, chased me down. He had my giant spider-man book in his hand and said, “hey, we found who took your book and got it back.” That’s all he said. I looked at him and hugged him. There was nothing else I could do. He went back to the afterschool program to do his thing and I went home.
What did I learn here? Selfishly, I’ve been struggling with who I am now. I used to be fat; that was my mantra for a minute. It always goes back to that but then it doesn’t. I don’t want to be that guy anymore. I actually hate that guy. He was mean and took his anger out on the world and made himself fat because he wasn’t sure why anyone would love him, so why not make that a reality and destroy myself and be mean. You all know the story, I got my act together, it all went away and I was left with the question, “who am I?” Still trying to figure out that answer, but today, at least for now, when Jimmy brought my book back, I know who I am and I’m not the guy who used to be fat. I’m the guy who cares about those whom no one else cares about because I know what it’s like to be them, and I’ll be dammed if I’m ever going to watch another kid suffer through that.