We're in the hallway.
My rubber soles screech in a stuttered pace as I monitor the halls before the change of period.
A couple of students walk out of the science lab directly in front of me and salute me. I made one of them a student ambassador because he had little involvement anywhere else. The other just came back from a long suspension.
"What's up, Mr. V?"
"Nothin' much. Just watching the hallway. Where are you both off to?"
"We got lunch next, but we have to take care of this business real quick before we go."
"Oh OK. Why weren’t you at math?"
"Iuno …" He shied away, but then realized who he was talking to, so he proceeded to tell me about a fight he got into outside. This time, he swore, it wasn't his fault. His movements reminded me of cousins whose anger made them pace back and forth in very small spaces, fists clenched, cheeks flushed, and eyes unmoved.
"Well, I'm not sure if you knew this, but I'm your new math teacher?"
"You are?" Before he could react, my student ambassador said, "Aiyyo, you lucky. At least it's not …" Before he could finish, he too realized who he was talking to.
"Yo," said the fighter, "I'm gonna' do my thing, get my grades up," with the finger rubbing his nostrils like my hood associates do when they're determined.
"Oh 'aight." We smiled at the moment, for I don't otherwise come off as someone with street wisdom. The royal blue Polo sweater, checkered flannel blue shirt, black pants, and no lace shoes don't scream gangsta. Or gangster.
Yet, by extending myself in this way, I immediately send him a note that he has a chance to do better. To see past the rage, anger, bullying, and disruptive behavior, you have to look at students like the lights they were meant to be. Yes, you hold them accountable. Yes, you reprimand them as necessary. Concurrently, you see kids for their potential, and spark a reaction that makes things kinetic.
It often involves removing our egos from the situation, listening to the timbre of children whose raw purity renders educational jargon useless. Taking less time to talk over the people we serve gives us more of the buy-in we so utterly desire.
This new class I'm teaching has lots of potential sparks. Here's hoping I can create those slivers of hope, wherever possible, whenever possible.
Green seedling image via Shutterstock
A version of this post originally appeared at The Jose Vilson