I have a student who speaks badly about women, swears when he shouldn’t, and reacts poorly to perceived criticism and the consequences of his actions.
I ask him casually in the hall how his day is going and he keeps walking without even looking in my direction. I sit down next to him in class to check in and I have to say his name half a dozen times before he begrudgingly acknowledges me. I try to have productive, relationship-building conversations, and he actively shuts me out.
Then he grabs some chalk and writes insulting messages on the chalk boards.
And then he gets pissed off and storms out when he gets in trouble.
But he’s still my student.
And because he’s my student, I still come back every day knowing it’s my job to support him, to help him realize how capable he is, how successful he can be.
I had a stern chat with my whole class the other day after he overreacted about “good kids” not getting consequences, but he acts out once and gets demerits because he’s a “bad kid.” I told them all there’s no such thing as good kids or bad kids.
There are only kids who make good decisions and kids who make bad decisions.
Kids who make bad decisions aren’t bad kids; they just do bad things. And the only thing that makes them bad is if they continue making bad choices even when they know better.
He still insists he’s a bad kid and won’t try changing.
But he’s still my student.
And because he’s my student, I still come back every day knowing it’s my job to support him, to help him see his own potential, to help him build that self-awareness he doesn’t have right now, that introspective potential to see his reaction before he acts and then the ability–and the willpower–to choose a better course of action in a heated moment.
I cannot change him. None of his other teachers can change him either. He can only change himself, but what we can do is create an environment that shows him the best student he can become, and we can give him the tools to become that student–to choose to become that student we all know he’s capable of becoming and wants to be.
And even when he doesn’t respond, even when he actively chooses to resist our support and disrespects us continuously, we don’t give up on him. Even when he gives up on himself, as I’m certain he has, we refuse to give up on him.
I will, and do, continue to let him know when he makes mistakes, but I temper that discipline with praise when he makes good choices and predictions for what he can achieve, and forecasts for what he can do right now to make better choices later. I hold him accountable and try to show him a better way, so he can choose the better way.
What I don’t do is assume that because I’m a good person, and most days a good teacher, that my students must be good students on account of being my students.
What I don’t do is throw a fit and tweet #NotMyStudent because he isn’t the student I hoped to have when I decided to become a teacher. Because he’s still my student.
Now I have a president who speaks badly about women, swears when he shouldn’t, and reacts poorly to perceived criticism and the consequences of his actions.
But he’s still my president.
And because he’s my president, I still come back every day knowing it’s my job–my civic duty–to support him. This does not mean I can or should or do support his decisions, but I can support his position: I can raise my voice to his, hold him accountable, show him a better way. I can write letters. I can share credible news stories. I can peacefully protest.
What I cannot do, should not do, and will not do is say he’s not my president. Because the moment I say he’s not my president, I also say I’m not his constituent. And the moment I am not his constituent is the moment his job description no longer cares about me, about my opinions, my needs, or the causes and ideals I stand for, fight for, and strive to uphold.
I will not give him that power. I will not give up on him, even if he’s given up on me.
Because he’s still my president. And it’s still his job to serve my country.
So let’s hold him accountable to doing his job. We can’t change him, but we can show him a better way. We can teach him better ways. We can make this country great again from the ground up, from all the rubble and aftermath of his election and inauguration.
After all, it is our people, not our president, that makes the United States united.