Sunday, February 26, 2006

Working Again

It's 9:00, only a few short hours before I will be waking up to go to work once more. My vacation mentality is officially gone. Instead, I am thinking about Jenny (name changed, of course) one of my new students who started a few days before the break.

Jenny is one of the more severely victimized youths of the foster care system in New York City. She was removed from her last foster home about three weeks ago due to physical abuse. And as a result of her experiences within this system, she is also very violent. Her new foster mother told me that she is having a very difficult time and may return her to the custody of the state.

Jenny spent two full hours her first day wandering around my classroom and cursing at me, saying things so vile I will never repeat them in print. I did not respond. Afterall, it hasn't taken much for me in this environment to recognize a desire to be rejected because you're trying to be rejected, rather than because you've had a case of impossibly bad luck in a country that gives little to children in your situation.

After a couple of hours, she finally gave up and sat down, where she cursed at me from her seat for a while before giving up completely. The next morning, I talked with her about her behavior. I told her that she will always have the last word with me, that my job is to teach not to argue, and that I really want her to do well in my class, which means she must be in the classroom, so if I can help it she won't be leaving for any reason, i.e. cursing.

To my complete surprise, Jenny responded well. Usually, this is the kind of message that must be sent dozens, if not hundreds of times, before a student who has experienced such trauma responds. But Jenny did a complete 180. It is exciting, but it is also upsetting. In some ways it is easier to deal with the students who seem completely lost to the system, rather than one who needs so little to get back on the right track but is getting absolutely nothing.

So, Jenny is on my mind tonight. Because I'm afraid that after hearing her foster mother's threats of sending her back, Jenny did whatever necessary to make that happen as quickly as possible. Because I see a spark in this child that may not be able to be maintained with more years of instability and abuse. And because I can't bear to think about walking in tomorrow morning and not seeing her eating breakfast at my table in the cafeteria.

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