(Some details have been changed out of respect for my student’s privacy.)
“I didn’t think Kelley would take me.”
I had left school thirty minutes early on a Tuesday to take my ailing 17-year-old cat to the vet when my phone rang, an unhappy Georgie in the cat carrier next to me. School had ended just minutes before, and it was the paraeducator who had covered our class at the end of the day calling. I answered because there weren’t any good reasons for him to be calling instead of texting when he knew I was dealing with an emergency vet visit.
“You know our friend who was in such a bad mood this morning?”
One of our students had been particularly surly that morning. Distracted by the need to schedule an emergency trip to the vet, I hadn’t taken the time to ask him what was wrong. He’d been hostile and disrespectful. I’d responded by alternating between ignoring him and reminding him about expected classroom behavior.
“Well, apparently his day got worse. They’re going to call and ask if he can do in-school suspension with you tomorrow.”
I didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, we’ll take him, of course. Tell them to call me.” At the time I didn’t realize that I was signing on for three days of in-school suspension, but I still would have agreed to have our student with us and not out of school for three days.
This isn’t the first time that a student has served time with me rather than a more traditional discipline. Last year a student who called me a bitch was sentenced to three lunch detentions. We agreed that he would serve them in my classroom so that he could complete missing work and pull his grade up from an F. By our third lunch together, he’d caught up on his missing assignments and we’d begun to build a better relationship as student and teacher. (Full disclosure: He skipped the first several lunches and an administrator had to finally track him down, but we made progress once we got started.)
Three days of in-school suspension is a lot of time to spend with a student. I was still teaching my regular schedule of classes, so the student sat at my rarely-used teacher desk in the back of the room while my classes did their usual work. One of the conditions for in-school suspension was that he wasn’t allowed to talk to any other students, and they couldn’t talk to him. The paraeducator who was usually only with me for part of the day was with us every period so that one of us could escort our student when he needed to leave the classroom.
It was a long three days. The student respected and followed the administration’s expectations, but three days is a long time to sit in a room full of your peers while only communicating with the two adults in the room. It was a lot of time for the three of us to spend together. While I was glad that he’d been able to avoid an out-of-school suspension, the public nature of serving ISS in a classroom still troubles me.
On the other hand, a lot of trust can be built in three days. Barriers can be knocked down. Because we had two adults in the classroom for the entire time, there were multiple opportunities to take a walk around campus when he needed a break. It’s unusual as a high school teacher to have the luxury of walking and talking with a student for twenty minutes. We talked about his mood the day he got in trouble. We talked about the chickens that live near the elementary side of our campus, and he showed me the slow one that his friend had managed to catch one day.
On the third day, during my planning period, it was just the three of us in my classroom. Our student could relax, move around the room, talk out loud. I’m pretty sure he was bouncing a basketball by this point. He started talking. He told us his story.
“I didn’t think Kelley would take me,” he said.
We aren’t all best friends now. He doesn’t come and hang out before school and during lunch, and he gives the teacher desk a wide berth when he’s in my class. But he knows that there are at least two adults in the school who will take him, who will pull him closer instead of sending him away. We won’t give up on him.