Tuesday, August 19, 2014


So a few years ago, when I was still in the classroom, my school’s ten-day count came back and it was determined that we would re-do a good chunk of the master schedule. I know, I know. It happens everywhere, every year.

That particular year, six weeks into school, a new class of seventh grade Geography was created and given to me. Um, yay?  The counselor pulled two or three kids from one class, and three or four kids from another... and suddenly, bam! I had a group of kids who didn’t know each other and who were a little ticked at having their schedules and routines and peer-relationships disrupted at the end of September.

Although I know that teachers didn’t (and really don’t) send their roughest kids out for a schedule change, it sure felt that way. I had a room full of “hall of fame” kids (I used to call some kids “Hall of Famers” when everybody knew their name -- but not for good reasons) This was that group -- you know, the one where you can’t believe you have ALL of them  in one class.

They made me crazy.

Into this class walked Amber*, loudly. Amber (*Not her real name) had a lot to say. Amber had a lot to say about everything. She was mad about having her schedule changed and she wanted to complain and object and question the whole concept of schedule changes and why we had to take Geography anyway and why she had me for a teacher, instead of her previous teacher.

And I really didn’t have time to listen or answer because another kid had just tossed over a desk, puffed out his chest, and was about to start a fight.

That class was a struggle all year. It was battle, every day.I remember days in March where I felt like they hadn’t gotten any better than they had been in September.

And Amber was a struggle all year, too.

Amber was a smart kid who had a complicated and lousy home life. She liked to confide in me about it for some reason. I tried explaining that I wasn’t really the teacher for that. Other teachers were really good at that personal-counselor-thing but I wasn’t. But Amber didn’t care. She had so much going on that she would explode if she couldn’t talk about it.

Amber also had a temper and would lose her cool at the slightest hint of unfairness. If I asked Amber to sit down and didn’t ask Rafael to sit in the same breath, her anger would flare. If I asked the class to do an assignment she didn’t like, she would throw a verbal fit! Sometimes, she would throw her paper on the floor and slam out of the room. It was exhausting!

So all year, while I battled the class, I also battled Amber. I called home. I wrote referrals. I wrote notes on her work. I sent her into the hall to calm down. I sent her to a colleague’s class, hoping he could talk sense into her. I sent her to the office. I sat down with her and had pointed chats. I tried keeping track on Behavior Logs. I moved her seat. Weekly.

All year, Amber and I drove each other crazy. She tried to throw a fit -- and I tried to get her to use her brain for learning, not temper-tantruming.

So the next year, I was fine when I noticed that she wasn’t in any of my 8th grade classes.

But she did have the teacher next door. And somehow, through all those referrals and inspirational chats and paper throwing and verbal disagreements, Amber and I had worked out a weird-but-mostly-positive teacher/student relationship.

So now, I had a new problem. Instead of Amber the Combatant, I had Amber the Cling-on.

Amber was at my door or in my room between almost every class. She snuck into my class instead of my colleague’s. She tried to come during lunch, before school, after school. She begged for tutoring. I couldn’t get rid of her!

But that year, the weird positive teacher/student relationship strengthened. I made time to listen to her after school when she straightened my bookshelves or asked for help with her History homework. And as I listened, I discovered a pretty tough, very amazing kid.  

Even when she went to high school, she came by as often as she could get past the front office to check in and chat and ask me a million questions. When she heard a Holocaust speaker in 10th grade who inspired her, she had her teacher pony me the program and a free CD-rom she had gotten for me.

I never really did get rid of her. :)

Amber is going into her senior year at FSU this year, and has put her obsession with fairness to good use -- she’s a Criminal Justice major, interning with the police department. She’s engaged and has cute puppies. She has mellowed her temper, considerably and has become a thoughtful, intelligent young woman. I don’t know if she would even recognize the description of her twelve-year-old self.

This is a “chicken soup for the soul” reminder that the kid who drives you the craziest, the kid who fights you on everything, the “hall of famer”, even the one in THAT CLASS -- if you can survive it, he or she just might turn out okay. He or she just might turn out to be That Kid -- the one you are in contact with nine years later.

He or she just might turn out to be a great young adult. It’s hard to believe that in August.

As your kids start to show their “true colors” this week or in the coming weeks, it’s good to remember that even though there are days (or weeks, or months, or semesters) that feel like “battle”, your relationship with a kid can really make a difference.

And it’s crucial to remember that kids can surprise you. Don’t ever underestimate them. :)

I hope your first week is still going well. I hope you find your Amber of this year and that she’s (or he’s) not driving you a too crazy yet.

Thank you for all the relationships you build with your Ambers to make them just a little smarter, more thoughtful, more knowledgeable, more prepared. Have a great day!  


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