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Sheryl Green: Ride on the passenger's side

The silence of the empty school's hallways was broken by the blaring intercom.

"Mrs. Boykin, you have a student remaining, please report to the front office." Her brisk, agitated walk allowed her just enough time to make a guess at which student she would find, and as she entered the front office, her guess was correct.

Sure enough, it was little Antonio, and yet another moment of frustration the fourth grader caused in Mrs. Boykin's day at Dorothy Height Elementary School.

Notoriously, Antonio was late when and if he came to school, he was disrespectful to her and his peers, and he showed little interest or effort in learning anything Mrs. Boykin tried desperately to teach him.

Only 9 years old, Antonio was already on his way to becoming a statistic.

The principal escorted Mrs. Boykin and Antonio into her office, and asked the little tyke why the bus had returned him to school. His head bowed in silence. She asked again to no avail.

Finally, she sent him out of the office and spoke to Mrs. Boykin alone. She explained that Antonio's mother was recently put in jail, and her last instructions to her son were simple: Hide. Her logic was imperfect. She figured her time incarcerated would be short, so Antonio could hide out and fend for himself until she returned, fending off child protective services. Little Antonio had done just that for now three days.

The story broke the heart of this math teacher. She recollected the countless cries of correcting him, and Mrs. Boykin was humbled. She realized almost instantaneously the very core of every teacher's mission. Little Antonio didn't need her to be his teacher, another authority figure or person to challenge him. He needed her to be a person of connection with him who focused not on the things he couldn't do or didn't do, but on the things he could achieve and become.

The realization was solidified when the principal took Mrs. Boykin on a drive through Antonio's south Columbus neighborhood. She caught a small glimpse of what life looks like when the afternoon bell rings and kids stumble into their reality outside the protective walls of our local schools.

She was forever changed.

I heard about this story and marveled at the horror it presents to all of us educators. We have all been there before -- in that moment when the frustration toward a child's disrespect or inactivity makes our blood boil, and counting to 10 is the only thing that keeps us from boiling over.

When we are at our wits end in coming up with ideas to curb a child's lack of interest or present potential to him. When we get called to the office and are told the horror stories of what our students are living like outside of a school day.

It's that moment of jaw-dropping realization that the teaching profession is no longer about framing the perfect lesson. It's about creating connective relationships that are vital in these kids' lives -- not just their academic lives, but their lifetimes existing and fighting through this cruel, unfair, debilitating world that gobbles up those kids born with little hope.

We move from facilitating the curriculum to becoming a source of empowerment to the powerless.

Mrs. Boykin sat in the front seat of her principal's car, gazing at a foreign land. A world that is beyond most of our levels of comprehensions. Those scary places we avoid. The unspoken areas of our city we often ignore, hoping by some miracle will clean themselves up. But from the bowels of those scary places come kids: the little Antonios who simply want to survive, who see little importance in learning math problems when it comes to finding something to eat in their hiding places.

But school buses aren't deterred from entering these places. They open their doors and tote these kids to our schools' front doors, and ask us to show them the way towards a diploma. Meanwhile, all they really want is a full belly and a momma not to be in jail.

What's the solution? How do we balance curriculum and connection? I don't have the answer, but I know getting one step closer looks a lot like taking a ride beside Mrs. Boykin and her principal.

Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at sherylgreen14@yahoo.com

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