I had to do a bunch of Chair of the PAC type things this morning. I sang Happy Birthday to the school secretary, I hung up a sign encouraging people to get involved in the playground construction, I posted the proposed agenda for the April meeting, I gave the school secretary the April meeting notices to go home in backpacks . . .
Max and the twinks were playing in the gym with the other early kids initially, but as I went to the back door where half the parents pick up their kids later in the day (so I have to post all my signs twice) I noticed him hanging out in the hall, in a small space between his locker and the door. He was looking downcast and--well, a mom knows when all is not well.
I asked him what was wrong and he said that another student (one he considers a friend usually) called him a Spaz, which he thinks means the same as Retard. His feelings were deeply hurt and he was deeply discouraged by the fact that since (student name) had come to the class, she'd introduced all kinds of new put downs to the class. Before said student arrived, this small group of sheltered Charter School and post-homeschool kids hadn't known you could hurt each other with names like "gay, retard, faggot," and a few other choice putdowns I can no longer recall in this moment. He said, "I didn't expect to hear words like this until maybe 8th grade or high school!"
Max's teacher is out. She's very sick and apparently anemic, too. But his assistant teacher was there--a man who I can't quite figure out. But I'm pretty sure that at some point in his life, he's been called some of those names, too. (Haven't we all?)
He was right around the corner, so I led Max to the classroom and I said simply, "Say again to Mr. W what you said to me." And Max did, pretty much word-for-word. I emphasized that he (Max) needed to let go of the WHO brought the words in the classroom. If many students were using the words, then the words now belonged to the voice of the classroom. We three talked about how we might speak to the classroom about how hurtful these words are, how small the class is, how long they'll be together until graduation. There's only one class till graduation. There's no shuffling and getting away from another student. The class needs to choose as a group to speak to each other in non-hurtful ways.
And I also gently let Max know that he was going to probably have to develop a slightly thicker skin. "But not too thick," I said to him, giving him a hug. "No," said Mr. W, "We don't want to change the sweet kid you fundamentally are."
So hopefully Mr. W will host that conversation with the kids. And hopefully their hearts will soften and they will hear the words that he says and know in their hearts that they CAN be kinder to each other and that their own happiness lies in choosing positive ways to talk to each other.
Pray for his class. They really are a sweet group with a couple of kids who just entered the Charter school scene this year and arrived a little . . . hardened. Pray that they will have this conversation and that it will bring them closer and that it will help them appreciate Max more--not cause him greater grief.