When Araceli came in after school, I asked her to sit down at a table with me so we could talk. I began by explaining that I understood she did not like my class, but that we had to come up with a way that we could get along. I made clear that she did not have to like me or my class, but we had to be able to work together so that I could effectively teach and she could learn.
After I explained my goal, she tried to get me to argue with her again saying, “I’m never gonna like your class.” I simply repeated what I had said about her not needing to like my class, but that we had to work out a way that we could work together. She then said, “I knew I wasn’t gonna like your class already last year, there’s no way I’m gonna like this class.”
I found her statement to be odd and figured I would investigate. ”How could you have known you wouldn’t like my class as a 7th grader?”
“Cause you said you didn’t want me in your class.”
Shocked and utterly confused I asked for clarification.
“One time in Friday Night School (that is our school’s “breakfast club” that I volunteer for) you said you didn’t want me in your class.”
Still confused I asked, “What made me say that? Could you give me some more details?”
She described how she was not working on her homework and when I asked her to work on it, she refused and said it is too hard. To this I replied that she was not trying and if she was not willing to try, I would not want her in my class next year.
Now, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of her recollection, but it didn’t matter. This girl had been hurt by something I had said…so much so that it stuck with her until the following school year.
I thought for a minute and said, “Araceli, I can believe that I said that. You and I both know that Friday Night School is different than a regular classroom and I didn’t know you then like I know you now. I apologize for saying something that made you believe I did not want you in my class. I hope we can start over.”
She remained silent for a few seconds.
“I hope you know that I am willing to work with any student who is in my class and I really enjoyed your contribution to class at the beginning of the year, but now I don’t see that any more. What can I do to help you get into class again?”
At this point Araceli was pretty withdrawn. I would not be surprised if this was the first time a teacher apologized to her and then went on to ask what they can do to help her. Her defenses were certainly down, and I could tell she didn’t really know what to do.
After a few back-and-forths, she brought up the event from last year’s Friday Night School as an excuse not to get involved in class. At this point I had to make clear that I had apologized and that at some point she will need to forgive me for what I said and focus on the present. I am not able to go back and undo what I said, all I can do is apologize and do my best not to repeat my mistakes. To this explanation, Araceli responded positively and indicated that she would try harder in class. She also gave me some ways I could help her participate and her perceptions of the classroom dynamic including students I seemed to ignore and favor. I thanked her for her ideas and promised to work on the suggestions.
Once we had resolved our conflict, I decided to try to get to know Araceli better. The resulting conversation would make clear that school life was low on her list of concerns. After getting to know her better, I was very disappointed by how her 8th grade year ended in our school.
Now, in the words of Back to the Future part 2: “To be Concluded…” :)