It isn't often that one has to accept apologies. Real apologies.
In the beginning of the year Jerrel Hogan and I had it out. Almost everyday there was an incident. Jerrel would throw a book across the room. I'd send him out. Jerrel would hit another student. I'd send him out. Jerrel would spill juice all over the computer keyboard and refuse to clean it up.
I'd send him out.
It was around that time that I discovered the Mandatory Parent Conference. An MPC is an amazing weapon in this school. If you give a student an MPC it means that they cannot come back into your room without a parent. It's almost always a win-win situation. If the kid never comes with a parent, they never come back in your room. If a kid does come with a parent then you get to (hopefully) find a way to change the behavior. I gave Jerrel an MPC.
Jerrel's mother never came in, but his Aunt did the very next day. She was a well spoken, well dressed woman with a genuine face. She came to my classroom door during my lunch with Jerrel in tow. She introduced herself. She told me that Jerrel's mother couldn't make it and that she hoped that I would accept her in his mother's place. "We have problems with the men in our family" she explained "but we are working on it with this one" she nodded in Jerrel's direction. He stood next to her leaning against the wall and looking at the ground. She told him to stand up straight. "Look at your teacher." He did for a moment and looked away. "I know this is hard for you, son, but you need to apologize for what you did." Jerrel started to tremble.
"Sorry" mumbled Jerrel and looked down. He was shaking. I had never seen him so weak. It suddenly occurred to me how young he was. Only fifteen and I had been fighting him like a grown man.
I was embarrassed.
"Look your teacher in the eyes" said Jerrel's aunt. "You are a strong person, Jerrel. It takes strength to really apologize to someone. That's why it hurts so bad. But you are strong and I want you to act like a man and look into this woman's eyes and apologize for what you did"
Jerrel looked at me, still shaking, his voice trembling. "I apologize for acting foolish in your class" he said "I am going to change the way I have been acting". He relaxed a bit and his Aunt looked at me. I hadn't thought of a response to his apology. I felt drained. I was so proud of Jerrel for apologizing to me. It was such a gesture that I didn't feel deserving. I felt like a child and I felt my body trembling just like his. I finally mustered up something.
"Thank you for apologizing, Jerrel" I said, as adult as possible. Then I paused. I admitted something to him. "I think I have been prejudice toward you." I told him "Because of your bad behavior in the past, I have started every class anticipating your bad behavior to repeat. I haven't given you any slack or ever given you the benefit of the doubt. I'm sorry for that. I'm going to start over with you. Okay?" Jerrel nodded, not looking at me. His aunt nodded too. She shook my hand and thanked me.
I thanked her too.