Sometimes some of my students come in during lunch and talk with me under the guise of work. I want 28 minutes of quiet in 6 hours of yelling and questions. When they burst in through the door with all the grace of a virgin on prom night, the conversation goes something like this:

“Whaddaya want?”
“Mr VeeEEEEE! You’re so mean!”
“Really, what?”
“I wanna take a test.” (Knowing this is the only valid excuse to interrupt me half hour of peace)
“Which one?”
“The one I failed.” (Knowing that know I have to check the gradebook and they have time to chill in Mr. V’s room)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with Marge, a teacher on my team (we have Teams, where 5 core teachers have all the same kids, so we can talk about them by name at our monthly meeting). Marge told me that these kids come from a troubled home life, and that I may be the most positive Male role model they will ever see. She was very eloquent, but I was struck by the emotion behind her words; it was as if she grabbed my arm and said,

“You are the only daddy that Ron will ever see.”

“Be careful what you pray for,” one of my professors told me when I was in college. “If you ask to see kids like Jesus sees them, it may mess you up.” Those words echoed in my head when I was in a meeting for Ron with all his teachers, mom, aunt, psychologist, counselor, and principal. I gave my best assessment of his behavior and performance in school, mostly just affirming what my seasoned cohorts said. Towards the end, the issue of his truancy came up. “Jon,” his counselor calmly stated, “you gotta start going to your zero-hour, bud.” Ron’s response would have gotten me slapped when I was 12:

“Pff! I’m not goin!”

I can only hope that my shock wasn’t apparent to his mom, or maybe I hope it was, because she did nothing. She peered across the table to the principle and gave a facial shrug with flat lips, as if to say, “Oh, well; whaddaya gonna do?”

At this point, Evil Matt was welling up inside me. I bit my tongue to keep from leaping from my seat and screaming, “I’ll tell you what to do! You slap him upside the head when he speaks that way! You train up your child in the way he should act, so that when he is old and gray, he won’t depart from it! (Proverbs 22:6) It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that Jon doesn’t end up like his dad in jail! By allowing this behavior, you are demonstrating that it is acceptable, and your are turning the key to his jail cell yourself.

Of course, that monologue only happened in my head, and Teacher Matt prevailed. Teacher Matt sat quietly in his chair and let the big dogs run the meeting, as he was instructed before the meeting began. This is the part where my old professor’s words were ringing in my head. God, help me to see what this kid needs and give it to him. I’m glad that Ron didn’t look up for the next few minutes; I was staring at him and thinking.

Fast-forward to the flock of 12-year-olds congregating to eat lunch with me under the guise of taking a test. These children of gang members don’t have male figures that give recognition of accomplishment. When I thank them for working quietly make little notes on their test, am I shaping their development?

I hope not. I don’t know if I can handle that kind of accountability.