The beginning of a new year is always exciting. I look forward to seeing all of the new faces that I will be stuck with for 180 days. I am just joking – I love my students.
This year, I have five classes and was excited to meet my new students. On the first day of school, a male African American student walked into my class and gave off a foul odor as he passed me. I wasn’t sure what the smell was, but it wasn’t good.
I have a tradition at the beginning of the year to explain the rules of engagement in my classroom. In my speech, I give them the dos and don’ts and I fully explain my expectations and what will make me go over the edge. It’s really quite comical; I’ve been doing this stand-up for years.
During my speech, I noticed the same young man had fallen asleep. I know I am not that boring that he would be falling asleep already. It’s day one, I thought to myself. How can he be falling asleep this early in the day? I overlooked it, kept talking, eased my way over to him, and called his name to wake him up.
On the second day, this same young man fell asleep in my class again. Again, I walked over and called his name. He was knocked out. This time, I tapped him on the shoulder. He didn’t budge a bit. He didn’t hear me calling his name. I let him sleep for about 20 minutes. Once the bell rang, I walked over and woke him up. I didn’t ask why he was so sleepy; I just assumed he was tired from getting back into the routine of school.
On days three and four he fell asleep again. Now I was beginning to think he must be up half the night playing video games, that’s got to be it. I had determined in my mind to speak to him about his video game parties and insist he goes to bed at an earlier time. On day five, he fell asleep almost five minutes into class. When the classroom lights came back on after watching a video clip, he was completely asleep. Now I was annoyed. Not only was he falling asleep when I talked, but he fell asleep on the lesson’s support video.
When he woke up, I asked to speak to him after class. I had my speech already about the reasons why he needed to go to bed early and stop partying or playing video games at night. When I asked why he was always falling asleep in my class, his response was, “Mrs. Blackwell, I am so sorry, but I’ve been getting home from my second job late, so I am really struggling to stay awake during the day.” My spirit hit the floor. I said, “Son, did you say your second job? How many jobs do you have?” “I work two jobs and go to school,” he said. “My mom needs help paying the bills, so I got to work!” I had no response. I encouraged him to try to talk to his supervisor so he can get off early.
My student was exhausted. I felt really bad for assuming he was goofing off when, instead, he was working; and unlike most people his age, he was working very hard to support his mother and brother. Now, I let him sleep for a few minutes and give him time to clean up so he can focus on school.
The Bible says that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, KJV). I’ve learned not to assume the worst of people. In my line of work, I am used to students lying and even parents lying or being hostile when I call about their child. It’s a genuine surprise when a student is truthful and struggling like this young man. He is making an effort to stay awake, and I try to allow him some rest time on days he is tired. I was taught to never judge a book by its cover. Lesson learned.