Slice of Life: Stopped Cold

Today was an adjustment for my 5th graders  Their last day in class was November 21st. A lot has happened to them in the week we weren’t together.  Lots to catch up on. To figure out.

My morning class seemed to flow. They jumped back into the routine.

By the time the second class rolled in, recess had happened, students were reaching their max in terms of focus. Tired bodies and minds had the need to go to the bathroom, walk around, talk, get drinks of water.

There were many one-on-one conversations and many worked to solve their problems on their own.

One student in particular was having a rough time. This isn’t unusual for B. We talked.  About books, about where he should work. About keeping his thoughts in his head until it was time to talk. About the choices he could make on the playground and in the classroom.

After lunch — My students migrate from the yard to the classroom. I walk behind two souls who are beautiful, bright and don’t fit comfortably in classrooms. They are too big in spirit. I watch them bouncing and spinning as we move towards the door. One of them is B.

We get into reading and things seems to settle. I sigh and send a silent thank you to the gods of patience that guide me. Then a bit of unrest starts up in the space B inhabits. I overhear him tell another student, “I won’t be in school tomorrow.”


I call him over and ask about his planned absence.

“I’m going to a funeral.”

“Oh no, a relative?”

“Yeah. My cousin.”

I pause and ask, “How old?”

“18,” he tells me. “He was shot. In his apartment. By police.”

I’m stopped. Cold.

This is what happened on his Thanksgiving break. This is what was in his head as I talked with him about books about his choices on the yard about school.  Oh my.

I was too busy managing busyness, the seating, iPads, shopping for books, book talks, recommendations, blog, vocabulary, read aloud, all the little things. The usual.

I didn’t hear what I needed to hear until the end of the day. We didn’t get to what we needed to get to today.

When I got home I googled “18 year old shot.”  I found his cousin, plus this report from The Daily Beast. Tragic, by anyone’s measure. This is happening right here, right now to our children. Eight years from now, will it be the boys in my classroom? This quote from Roxanne Gay cited  on Vicki Vinton’s recent blog post keeps ringing in my ears:

How do we see one another as human, as having lives that matter, as people deserving of inalienable rights?

Vicki goes on to offer hope and a challenge.

I believe the answer lies in part in classrooms and in people like the ones I heard at NCTE who are trying to help children revise, rewrite, recast and reimagine the stories of their lives so that we can all be and do better.

This is a big challenge. I’m not sure I know how.  But, I know I need to try.

I’ve found some good resources at #FergusonSyllabus. These were the few that spoke to me: Lee Warren’s  tips  could work at any grade level.  Jen Cort also offers sound advice here for dealing with uncomfortable but meaningful issues.  I’ve also got this chat on my calendar.

If you are so inclined, add in your thoughts, tips, recommendations in the comments. My thanks to you lovely Slicers.

Thank you Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara four Slice of Live Tuesdays. Read more slices here.