I have heard so many stories from and about my students that they don't always impact me the way they probably should. In some ways, I think I am desensitized to the stories. I had a student leave my classroom yesterday for another school. He was always one of my favorites even though he hated sitting in his chair - unless I would let him turn the chair upside down. He told me they needed to move because their electricity had been cut for a year, their gas had been cut for two months, and their xbox had just been stolen. It saddened me more that he was leaving than to hear about his home life over the past year. I think that's a problem.
Leaving school today there was a group of 8 or so tough-looking fellas hanging out on a porch right across from our school. They were somewhat intimidating in their solidarity of all black outfits and black and silver bandannas. It isn't unusual to have these guys outside, usually picking up their younger, less scary siblings. But is was the first time I had seen them congregated in such a large group.
They were just watching the hundreds of students leave the building. Standing next door to a house where the police shut down some sort of drug operation two days ago and about 20 yards away from where a 7th grade student had been shot to death about this time last year.
There was something else unique about this afternoon. When we walked outside every one of my students looked at them and then back at me. Several of them asked me why the guys were there. The students are used to us providing a safe environment. What was also unnerving to me was that many of the parents who were waiting outside were glancing over their shoulders at the gang as well.
Keeping an eye on each of my students we walked down the sidewalk. When I was down to one student, one of my rougher boys (but he is a great student), I asked him if he knew the guys on the porch.
"yeah, they used to be friends with my brother."
I was curious. I had heard about his brother who had recently gotten out of a short stint in jail and was trying to turn his life around, but was having a hard time finding a job. So I asked, "was he in that gang?"
"Yeah, Florence" He said in a very matter of fact way.
Then he told me that his brother's best friend is still in with the gangs but that he had switched from the Florence (f13) gang to another one. Then he said - "that's why the guys flipped the Florence sign at me when we walked past, so that I would know they were still mad about my brother's friend switching and my brother quitting."
"That's crazy." I said, "I didn't even see them do anything. Are you sure they meant for you to see the sign?"
"yeah. Once when my brother picked me up they were doing the same thing. But my brother just ignored them because he's not into that anymore."
I pray that I never become desensitized, nor that I will ever romanticize the gang world. It is easy to do because I still feel a little like I am an extra in a movie when I see the tattooed groups walking around. I also pray that God will help me be a difference in some kid's life. That I will at least provide a positive classroom so that they can have as an escape from the chaos outside. I also pray that I will not be overly fearful of the gangs nor exaggerate their influence on my students' lives.
I love how God is teaching me lessons every day.