Your name is a flower, but you are more thorny than fragrant. You wear your defiance proudly, creating a space around you that few will brave. I thought I knew you before I met you; I knew your older sibling, both of your parents and, of course, I knew the very public story that was splashed across the local papers several years ago. And then you came into my classroom.
For months we have sparred. I approach, you block and turn. Duck, dodge, parry, thrust…elegant sword play, but with less emphasis on the elegant. Emails and phone calls to home reaffirm that I am doing my best, that your parents care and that the problem is all you. One hundred percent you. Even the counselor and the other teachers agree, it is all you.
I have watched you move further and further away during class, sinking into the biggest chair that is as far away from me as possible. This physical distance is so symbolic of your emotional state that it is cliche (but 7th graders always seem to walk the fine line between reality and caricature). You will occasionally come to ask a question, cautiously sitting beside my desk in the Conference Chair…but you almost never have a question, just a statement of defeat. “I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.”
You were so happy during Spirit Week because you could wear your hat, pulled down low, hiding even more of you from the world. I joked with you that Friday, asking what you were going to do when you couldn’t wear your hat anymore. You answered, “Oh, I’ll still wear it,” and we laughed, but I knew you weren’t really joking.
Since then it has become your test: you put it on, wait for an adult to attempt to enforce the archaic dress code, and, when the they do, you take it off, wait a bit, and then do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Ad nauseum. I saw it happening and watched with bemused detachment. I rarely engage with the dress code enforcement, and students seem to know that I am a safe space, generally speaking.
And then, suddenly, I found myself the unwilling participant in this battle. I don’t really know how it started, but somehow I have to believe that you conjured this up on purpose. Did you put on the hat and walk directly in front of me while I was talking to the Assistant Principal? Yes. Did you put on the hat and walk across the crowded cafeteria not once or twice but three or four times, daring me to say something or risk giving you tacit approval in front of 250 students? Yes. Did you collapse into that giant chair in the corner today, hat pulled down with your binder in front of your face, pretending to hide? Yes. And with each infraction, I said, “Take off your hat” or just “Hat” and you pulled it off, audibly somehow, just to reattach it to your head once the moment had passed.
So, finally, I pulled on my big-teacher pants and called you into the hall. I told you I had to write you up. This was the mother of all teacher cards and I had pulled it. You grunted, said you “get it” and asked to put your hat in your locker. I watched you reenter the class, hatless, and the battle was over. I had done my job and you had done yours. You slept through the rest of class, eyes wide open.