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Archive for May, 2011

Today, I had a student stay after school to work on make-up work. The majority of the time he was in there, I had two other students who usually hang out in my room waiting for a ride. But when they left, he and I had a great opportunity to talk about life. This student is one of those tough cases who tries to act tough, has a rough family life, has been in and out of Juvy, and yet is hiding a little boy few have taken the time to get to know.

Our conversation started off as he was looking up information trying to persuade others that marijuana should be legalized. (We’re in the middle of persuasive papers and debates right now.) He asked me a couple of questions, and we began to discuss his history of drug use. (He knew I knew he smoked–we had had previous discussions about that.) He shared that he had begun smoking pot when he was nine, had tried about every drug there is (He named cocaine, crack, heroin, vicodin, xanax…), spent time in juvy, and otherwise had a rough life (Both sets of parents use/have used drugs.) He told me he thinks he’ll be dead by the time he’s 18. When I told him he needed to make better choices since I didn’t want to see him in a box, he responded, “It’s okay. You don’t have to come.”

He explained to me that he wasn’t worried about his drug use, since “I’m still smart. It doesn’t affect me.” I talked to him about the fact that teenagers usually lack the ability to think through the long-term consequences of their actions. (We had also been discussing this in relation to his choices to have sex with his girlfriend and thinking it wasn’t a big deal if she got pregnant since, “I have a job.” Note: He’s 14.) He continued to argue with me that pot was better than cigarettes because he had been able to quit for almost two years while he was in juvy.

As this was the longest and most sincere conversation I’ve been able to have with this kid, I decided it was the time to press the issue. I took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. “[His name], I care about you–you know that. I want to see you make something of yourself, and you can’t do it if you continue making these choices you’re making.” He crumpled and sat down on a desk.

“It’s going to be hard to quit.” He said, looking up at me.

“Yes, it is. Especially since all your friends do it–and your family. But you’ve got to decide what you want. Do you want to make something of yourself, or do you want to end up 18 and dead like you think or selling drugs, living on the streets, or in jail somewhere because you got caught?”

“I don’t ever want to go back to jail.”

“And what if your girlfriend does get pregnant? Do you want a baby going through withdrawals from all that stuff you’ve been on? That takes a while to get out of your system.” [He put his head down.]

“No, I’d never want that.”

“Well, these are the kind of long-term consequences I was talking about that you have to think through. As Robert Frost said: ‘Two roads diverged in a golden wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’. So you’ve got a choice to make. Which road are you going to travel?”

“You’re saying I have decide whether to keep making the choices I’m making or turn around?”

“Exactly. You’ve got a lot to think about. [Name], you can be somebody, or you can waste your life. The choice is yours. You’re smart. You can do it.”

We talked for a bit longer. I know he had planned earlier to meet up with some people that day to smoke, saying “I’ll quit after today.” I shared with him about others who had said that and never made it past that day.

I don’t know if he ended up going or not. I hope he didn’t. All I know is that upfront open communication, addressing the issue head on, is often the best response.

And I have hope. Just yesterday, I had a former student stop by who had been in the same situation: in and out of jail, had best friend die of an overdose while he was with him, dealt with drug and alcohol use, etc. He tells me now he’s been clean from both drugs and alcohol for a year and a half, he has a job, and he’s working on getting his diploma. I gave him a hug and told him how proud I was of him.

If you love kids, talk straight, and challenge them to think, eventually many of them come around. You just have to let them see someone cares about the choices they make.

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I reminded my students this week of how many days we had left and challenged them not to miss the opportunities that this time offers.

“In twenty-one days, you will never have this combination of people together again.” We talked about taking advantage of the time to encourage one another and ask me the questions they still had. Today, our journal topic was to describe a time when you have misjudged someone. In the course of discussing our answers, one of the students asked me what my first impression of her was. I told her, and many others began to ask questions. I stopped the discussion, as we had many things to do.

However, in reading journals today, a number of students put the question in their journals for me to respond to: What do you think of me? I was stunned. It occurred to me how few of these students have anyone to tell them who they are–to call out the destinies in their hearts or affirm them in their strengths. Consequently, they are starving for validation. In each case, I took the opportunity to address both areas of strength I saw in them and areas where I see them hiding because of the pain in their lives. I also addressed the weaknesses I see in them. As I have told them countless times, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to,” a number of them took the time to say, “It’s okay, I won’t get upset.” Many also sought advice on character issues, relationship choices, or rifts in friendships.

For me, it was just another reminder of the rare gift it is to shape a child’s future. It also gave me the opportunity to say, as J.J. Heller does in her amazing song, “I will love you for you, not for what you have done or what you will become.” And that is a message I think everyone needs to hear.

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