Somewhere there’s an AP Lit teacher dressed as Shakespeare so that he can greet his Seniors at 6am and get them excited for learning. Somewhere there’s a theatre teacher who just turned the lights to her classroom out at 9pm just to turn them back on at 6:30am. As she walks to her door, she sees a student sitting there with the same hoodie he wore yesterday, the same hoodie he wears everyday, earphones in and a look of darkness and despair. She feels herself get heavy as she approaches him, a little because she has so much to do and can’t leave students in her room unattended but more because every morning he’s waiting by her door and every morning she lets him in, only to be greeted by coldness and silence. Today he actually speaks, just to complain he has to start a Shakespeare unit in English, why does he have to learn about a guy wrote stupid love stories over 300 years ago? The teacher gives a passionate response that includes themes and lessons and the fact that The Baird actually has a lot of provocative innuendos for those keen enough to pick up on them. A smile cracks his lips as other students start to filter into the room.
Ready or not, the show begins and the drama teacher puts on a 6 hour performance…. That’s what teaching is, or good teaching anyway. You are on stage period after period giving the audience what they need and feeding off their energy to make it the greatest performance of all time. The main difference between broadway and classroom teachers, is that every day there’s a new show with very little rehearsal time in between.
After school the AP Lit teacher stops by the drama classroom to talk about the student. He had his hoodie up and his earphones in all period, does this happen to every teacher or just him? The AP Lit teacher goes on to explain how lively the lesson was, he was all dressed up for goodness sake. Maybe he took it a little personal that this kid showed no interest but he was going to call home and speak with his mother. Both teachers agreed that he should not be in AP classes if he’s not going to do the work and that his disconnected behavior is concerning. They rang the number on file together but there was no answer.
The drama teacher thought about the boy in the hoodie all night. She talked to her friends about him over dinner. About how tired she was and how busy her mornings are, yet she finds herself consumed by him. When her mother called, she mentioned her conversation with the AP Lit teacher… “I just don’t understand why he even comes to school if he doesn’t care!”
And then, lying in bed thinking of ways to get through to him, it came to her. He comes to school because it’s all he has. The boy in the hoodie met the drama teacher at her door at 6:30 the next morning. She let him in as she always did and he had the usual tormented look. She asked him about Shakespeare. He told her that his teacher dressed up and it was really cool. Cool? He also mentioned that they would be reading the play Hamlet and that he actually liked plays. Maybe he could be in her next production, behind the scenes or something? He doesn’t have anything to do after school and he’s always there early. “Yes,” was all she could say.
The boy in the hoodie was her most reliable student and although she didn’t get her copies made every morning, and often had to listen to him go on about his other classes, she felt being there with him served a purpose greater than having a perfect lesson. She always preferred the impromptu lessons anyway.
The boy was socially awkward and often got bullied for wearing the same hoodie everyday. He still put his earphones in and often got in trouble by his teachers for defiance. His grades slipped and he failed all of his state tests, simply because he refused to take them. Yet he was the drama teacher’s most reliable stagehand. He arrived early (albeit too early) and she actually had to kick him out every evening. He came to school everyday because it was better than the life he faced at home.
His father was an alcoholic and his mother left 3 days before the school year began. His father lost his job, due to alcoholism and spent the day passed out, when he was actually home. There were times he left for days at a time and the boy often wondered whether he would come back at all. There was nobody to take him to the store and buy food for him and he had no means of washing his clothes. He once stole money from another student’s backpack to pay the utility bill. This is what he told a social worker when his case was finally investigated after no parental contact was made all year.
The boy in the hoodie would continue to fight but school made him feel safe. His drama teacher gave him a warm classroom to enter through everyday and through his role in the play, he had a purpose. His AP Lit teacher made him smile and even when he was getting in trouble, he felt cared for. School was his escape and his teachers were his saviors.
This is what public education is for.