Thomas was in and out of the alternative school his sophomore year. This is a place where students are sent for anywhere from five to ten days for behavioral infractions. As part of my contract, I would visit Thomas if he was at the alternative school to make sure that he wasn’t falling behind. Whenever I showed up he was thrilled and he loved any chance he could get to improve his reading skills.
Unfortunately, the other professionals (and I’m using this term loosely) at his school could not see the child that wanted to learn inside of Thomas. All they could see was the rage and the shutting down. I strongly suspect that they had trouble seeing past some other things as well, but you’ll hear more about that later.
Thomas was a student with a documented behavior disorder, but this school was not equipped to deal with students like him. They had no class room for students like him and I knew of no other students on behavior plans at his school. When Thomas began refusing to do his school work, they placed him in a room with other students who were retarded. Yes, your read that correctly. They placed a student who had an average IQ in a room full of low-functioning retarded kids because he had an anger problem. Doing this did not stop his anger problem. Instead, Thomas found another answer—he began skipping.
Thomas would only come to school on days when he had my class. Then he would often skip the rest of the day. He wanted to get better at reading, but he hated being a room full of retarded kids. The man placed in charge of Thomas’ behavior plan was a coach—yes, let’s put a professional yeller in charge of a child with rage problems. That seems smart. Thomas was supposed to report to this man each morning and sign in. One day Thomas did not do this, and his teacher came to my classroom. Each of my students were engaged in silent reading—an activity that we did for the first fifteen minutes of every class. From the doorway of my classroom this man yelled, “Thomas, get over here.” All the eyes in my room swiveled for the door—class interrupted. Thomas said, “one sec.” I could see his eyes struggling to find a stopping place on the page. He was turning down the corner of the page when the teacher bellowed at the top of his lungs, “GET OVER HERE NOW.” No one was reading at this point. Thomas scooted over to the door and met with Coach Red Face. After returning to class he refused to do any work, and I didn’t make him. I was pretty pissed too and at least I didn’t have to report to that guy.
Thomas didn’t come to school much after that.
Eventually he was sentenced to a juvenile rehab facility by the City’s juvenile judge. I immediately began making calls when I heard this. A friend called someone she knew and we learned that the judge had placed him there, so he could get intensive services for his problems. While the center was primarily for drug users, Thomas had been sent there because of truancy.
During this time on of the school’s social workers called me discuss Thomas’s case. I was the only one who provided the reading program he needed, so she was calling to find out what the alternatives were. During the course of our conversation, I made a critical error: I admitting to caring about what happened to Thomas. Stupid. Never show weakness to other “professionals” in the school environment. This counselor tells me, “well, you know he’s in a drug rehab place.”
“Yes, but he was placed there for truancy, not drugs”
“Well, I don’t know about that. One of the kids here in the office said he was on crack. And you know he lives in the projects.”
I was stunned. First, you should NEVER discuss one child with another. That’s a violation of what do you call it? Oh yeah, their rights. Second, Thomas had always been very adamantly against drug use. He felt that anything that would affect your ability to play basketball was stupid. And third, I don’t think where you live should change how people treat you. Do I really need to explain these things to a social worker?
I tried to disagree with the woman. Stupid, again. I told her about how Thomas didn’t believe in drug use. She told me, “It’s important to remember that you are supposed to be his teacher, not his counselor.” At that point one phrase was running through my head: stupid bitch. My ears were ringing.
Thomas was released from the center over Christmas holidays and was never heard from again. My best guess would be that he went to live with relatives somewhere else. I know that I did what I could, and I also know that it wasn’t enough. All I can do now is pray—and I still do.
Thomas, if you’re out there, I hope you’re OK.
I know you don’t need any more to read, but I’m off to a wedding!!! I’ll be back on Sunday. And I already know what my post will be about. AND, I getting a much needed digital camera, so I can start taking pictures of my own shoes. Need to go order it now. . .