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Last week, I talked about a student who likely learned more from a bad decision than the actual curricular instruction he received in class.
I should tell you that this happened a long time ago in a rural school. I have my doubts as to whether today’s parents and children would cooperate as those of that story did. I especially doubt that this would occur in an urban public school. In this way, I am glad my classroom teaching days are behind me.
This next story does take place in the last school I taught in, which was a big, multicultural high school in Edmonton. This school must have had students representing every country in the world. At least that is what it seemed like and that is what made it special.
A mixture of cultures, languages, ideas… and groupings meant lots of opportunity to learn to get along or, unfortunately, how to defend your position.
On several occasions I did have to break up fights. However, I would like to point out that while many of these skirmishes were racial in nature, they were usually between different groupings of new or foreign students and not so much between white students and other groups as we are often told.
One particular student of indigenous origin was the recipient of constant racial taunts from a group of Asian students at the bus stop. Bus stops are often far enough from the school that teachers are not present, making whoever is unlucky enough to be the victim of such antics very vulnerable.
While strolling around the language lab observing how the students were getting along with their assignment, this native student’s backpack fell over, revealing a rather formidable looking hunting knife.
I immediately and very discretely bent down, grabbed a book out of his bag, hid the knife as best as I could and brought it to my desk at the front of the room. Nobody noticed what had happened, except of course, the now frightened student.
I did not say a word, but the student waited until all the others had vacated at the end of the class before making his way to talk to me. He was shaking, he was so scared.
Please understand that most teachers would have likely made a production out of this, involving the administration, school constable and others. I decided not to do this and not being able to see what I had in mind scared this student even more.
The next class was about to begin so I instructed him to come back at the end of the day, which he did. By now, he had settled down a bit and expected me to return the knife. Obviously, that was not an option.
When I asked him what he was doing with that knife (this predates school metal detectors!), he told me about the taunting he was constantly being subjected to at the bus stop.
He was certainly big enough to defend himself, but not against a gang. He insisted he had no intention of hurting anyone, but that was very bad thinking by an emotional teenager who had had enough.
When I told him that I would call his parents about this event, he panicked. Teens have long been known for drama and this fellow did not disappoint! He clearly believed that if I did that, I could strike him off the attendance roster because he would no longer be attending due to the fact that dead students don’t go to school!
He told me that his dad would kill him! When I asked if his dad was bigger than him, he replied that his dad was. (This proved to be just his perception, because when I later met him, they were about the same size.).
Seeing that he was traumatized by the thoughts of me calling his dad, I suggested an alternative. I told him he could tell his dad himself and have him call me.
He thought that would be more humane as this way his dad could kill him right away, reducing possible pain and suffering! What kids don’t come up with! He bid me farewell as in “please come to my funeral” and left.
The next morning, a different kid in the same skin found me first thing in the morning. Feigning surprise at having seen him after being invited to attend his funeral, I asked him what happened. The story is a real tear jerker!
After coming clean, his dad told him to get dressed as they were going somewhere. Needless to say, the student imagined a bridge or a ditch where the deed could be done without too much mess! Obviously, this was not on the father’s mind.
He took his son to his favourite restaurant and bought him his favourite pizza. He then told his son some of his history, much of which mirrored his son’s, except he had brought his weapon to the scene. He had been charged for doing bad things and had paid a price he just did not want his son to replicate.
He reminded the young man just how much he was loved and just how proud he was of him for not having made the wrong decision, even though he may have been spared by the sharp eye of his teacher.
That young man changed that night and I had the privilege of having had a hand in teaching him a fantastic lesson. I love that story.
Dad came by a few days later to get the knife. What an honour it was to have met the man who made a man of his son. Some of the best lessons learned in school are indeed, extracurricular.
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