Yesterday, I went on a field trip, to a local nature center, with my son’s fourth grade class. It was a beautiful day, marred by a guide, who was a little boy unfriendly, to say the least. Not a good match for a group composed of ten boys.
I’m not sure what teacher thinks it’s a good idea to place ten boys together (unless it was something of a see what I have to deal with kind of gesture), let alone ten boys, with one on his path to becoming a major trouble maker, another who couldn’t stop asking questions that were pretty irrelevant and very emotionally fragile (ie, almost reduced to tears because he wasn’t allowed to pick up shells), and one, must touch the guide every time I need her attention, but this was our group. Throw in seven other normal, energetic boys and one impatient, I can tell this is going to be trouble, guide, and well, it wasn’t as bright and cheery as it could have been.
You see, this guide, started out with the impression that our group, because it was all boys, was going to be bad and she had no problem making her feelings known. Her opening words contained no message of this is going to be a fun day, there are so many cool things to see, so I need you guys to do xy and z to make it as great a day as possible. No, it was more like, I see you guys are not the greatest listeners, and why do you have to ask so many questions, and if you can’t follow the rules then you are going to ruin the whole trip, and we’re not going to see or do anything fun. She went in assuming the worse, based on, I don’t know, one minute of time with them, and met their curiosity and energy with sarcasm and cynicism. Even I felt bummed out.
Besides the one unruly one, and even he was not all that unruly, the worse thing you could say about these boys is that sometimes they strayed a foot or two off the stone path, and that they wanted to stop and examine everything, prints in the dirt, spiders, animal poop. And they asked A LOT of questions. Instead of being thrilled by their curiosity, our guide was annoyed that their interests did not jive with her agenda. Talk about missing the point.
By the end of our hour and a half walk in the woods, she had softened, slightly, but maintained her hard edge. Throughout the rest of the day, she stayed with our group while different people gave presentations and took them through other parts of the park, but after each stop, she gave the same old, we’re not going to do this if you’re not going to behave spiel. I’m not even sure what she was talking about, but I do know that her threats grew tiresome, and she wasn’t even talking to me, I can’t imagine how the boy, who didn’t murmur one word the entire day, felt about being constantly scolded.
Her attitude set the tone, and her attitude sucked.
I’ve seen this happen before, in schools, and even more sadly, in families, and unfortunately, it’s our boys, our wonderful, energetic, thoughtful, crazy boys, who are often the target. Instead of harnessing their energy for the positive, some people look for the negative. They squash the instincts that make boys unique, because they fear chaos.
Fear is a powerful thing and sometimes, it can make adult behave in bad ways.
It reminds me of when I used to teach high school. Though I taught many classes, my specialty, by default, seemed to be the kids on the brink of failing and not because they had learning disabilities. The reasons these kids found their way into my classroom were numerous, lack of parental support, mild language barriers, frustration, discipline issues, apathy, etc. In truth, the majority of them were boys. Why me? I was still low on the totem pole, which meant no clout, and it wasn’t long before my supervisor realized I could not only handle them, but I could teach them as well. Not because I was some uberteacher, but because I had empathy and treated children, who had too often been mistreated, with respect.
So, after a while, when I was called into my supervisors office and told that I would be getting a new student because so and so “can’t handle them,” I was no longer surprised.
I’ll never forget one boy in particular, who had a lot of issues he had to deal with outside of school, including work. He was not academically oriented, but he was a hard worker, thoughtful, quiet, and big. I’m not going to tell you that this kid was angelic or perfect, but he wasn’t what everyone wanted to peg him as, which was bad. I’d watch this kid get called out, sometimes playfully by his classmates, sometimes, not so playfully, by teachers in the hallway. He was not as quick with the comebacks, easily embarrassed, and his cheeks would burn red as he would take what came his way, never able to defend himself, without coming off as a guilty. There was no parent ever to back him up.
One day, at the end of a pep rally, I walked into the main office and saw him sitting in one of the chairs, waiting to see the principal. “Jim,” I said, “why are you here?”
He explained that the principal (a hard ass always bent on controlling through fear) had kicked him out because he said he had thrown something from the bleachers. He told me it wasn’t him. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, I’ll never know for sure, but I believed him. The principal would not. The problem was he couldn’t defend himself without those burning cheeks and becoming flustered, and he wasn’t the type of kid to give someone else up. But, he was the exact kid big enough to stand out of the not so nice crowd he was a part of. Guilty by association.
I taught him his junior year. The next year, in November, I went out on maternity leave and never returned. I wish I could tell you exactly what happened to him, but I can’t. Even though I remember his first name and can picture his face as clear as day, I can’t remember his last name, or else I would have googled it to give you the exact way things turned out. Instead, I have to rely on memory, and what I remember wasn’t a happy ending. A few years later, I saw his name in the newspaper. He had been involved in major trouble. The details are blurry, but I believe he had gotten shot in the head, though I don’t think he died. Once again, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His story is extreme, but I wonder what his life would have been like if the adults that were responsible for shaping him had showed a little more compassion. I can only imagine how many unfriendly guides he had met along the way.
The point of the field trip was to learn about nature, but I think my biggest takeaway from the day had nothing to do with plants and everything to do with how we treat our boys.
An adult has the power to make or break a day in a child’s life. Simply expecting the worse, sometimes gives you the worse. As adults, we need to resist the fear of chaos and embrace the energy. Our boys are counting on us.