Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 16 2011

My Chance

My kid they call Dirty has been refusing to do any work for the past week or so, and I’ve been absolutely at a loss (as usual). I wrote him up one day for it, thinking maybe he just needed someone to coerce him into doing what’s best for himself… but it didn’t feel right at all. And nothing came of it anyway.

His mother is at a loss as much as I am, but in a less productive way. When I called her to let her know he had a 17% in my class, she asked derisively, “Has he been showing up to class? Well then I’m happy! If he wants a 17 on his transcript then that’s up to him, but at least he’s going.” When I called her again on Thursday, she was a little exasperated with me—she seems to think he’s a stubborn, lazy lost cause who won’t do anything to help himself, and when I continue to call and ask questions, I think she feels like I’m not getting the point.

I realized he was in the room with her when she started emphatically telling me that she can’t get him to do anything—do his homework, clean his room, anything—and telling me how she can’t help it if he wants to throw away his educational future. To this, I heard an “I DO care about my educational future!” in reply, and I interrupted with a request to speak to him myself; I needed to make sure he knew I wasn’t calling to say I thought he was lazy, as well.

I know she cares about him deeply and is probably feeling ten times more helpless than I am—I don’t pretend to have any idea what it feels like to be a parent and watch your kids start to slip away like this. But this time I asked flat out if she thought he was having trouble emotionally, and she told me he’d been prescribed medication a while ago, but refused to take the pills.


Probably because of the quick mending job I did on the phone with him, I got him to agree to hang out after school with me on Friday. I sat him down, asked him a lot of questions to open up the subject, listened a lot, and then breathed for a second before launching into my own story: I’d been depressed. He knew me when I was going through it. I was bored with everything, not motivated, not happy, and had no energy. I didn’t think I needed to take medication at first—I thought I just needed to get my butt in gear. It took months before I finally tried it. But then I transformed. He saw me transform. He felt the difference between when I was myself and when I wasn’t, didn’t he? That was because I finally had some help. I told him about how any normal person’s brain can forget how to deal with sadness the right way. I told him how I thought medication was just a way to change the chemicals around the brain so the brain could re-learn how to do what it’s supposed to do. How medication doesn’t have to change who you are—it just gives you a second to breathe so you can figure out how to swim again.

I’d like to do less talking and more listening in the future. He alluded to being hospitalized for depression, to crying every day when he was little because he missed his “deadbeat dad” so much, to not wanting medication because he’s the type of person who finds the joy in everything… I want to pull more of that out of him.

But I think I gave him something to think about over the weekend.

2 Responses

  1. adrilicious

    You’re completely awe-inspiring. How brave to open up like that to a student. How brave to connect with him on his terms. How brilliant to catch him on the phone and build in a space for feedback and communication. Keep it coming sister – I’m taking notes :).

  2. danielleinthed

    I agree. I have suffered from depression before too, so I can relate. Props to you

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