Sunday, June 04, 2006


Trip One - To The School Year August 2005 - May 2006

This was year three for Connor in high school. More accurately he was a third-year-freshman. Generally this is not something to be proud of, but for Connor he was just marking time until his eighteenth birthday. Due mostly to his miserable home life he took everything negatively and personally. If a teacher attempted to be nice to him it was because it was their job. If a teacher was not nice then it was because he was white, because of his age, because of where he lived, because of prior trouble he had been in, because, because, because, etc.

Connor felt comfortable in the haven of my classroom mostly because my demands of him were subtle. I expected him to be a young man. He was expected to accept responsibility for his actions. Sometimes he was successful in these expectations and sometimes not. The man he encountered in the classroom in August was the same man he left each May. Consistency in teaching is greatly underestimated. Or maybe it was because I am three times his size?

Like many Special Education students he had become an expert at avoiding schoolwork. In fact they may dedicate more time at avoiding schoolwork then if they had gone ahead and did the work. I tried for three years to find the one thing Connor was good at in the world of academics. He had great difficulty reading. Anything beyond 8 times 5 was lost on him. He could not find America on a map. He didn’t know, nor did he care, who was George W. Bush. However, Connor does have an aptitude for auto repair. More precisely he could repair tires rather quickly. Unfortunately he could not pass the prerequisite course to enter auto repair. No Child Left Behind has tainted even the meager vocational offerings of the government school. The federal mandate says that students like Connor should be destined for college.

During the summer breaks he carried bundles of roofing shingles up ladders for his uncle. This man was not really his uncle, but had been involved at one time with Connor’s mother so he continued to refer to him as his uncle. Connor did not have steady work with his uncle. It was always determined by how much his uncle drank the night before. Most days Connor lounged around the one-bedroom mobile home during the day smoking cigarettes that his mother provided him. To my knowledge he had not developed an interest in illegal drugs. I assume due to his financial state more then a moral belief. All told Connor is not a bad “kid” just a product of his environment.

Mrs. Bessemer was part of a package deal. She and her husband had been hired to teach at the beginning of this school year. Most likely her husband had been rehired because he coached baseball. Number three of four sports in this school, but a sport no less. Incidentally he teaches World and US History. She teaches Special Education Inclusion English. Conner immediately fell for her. He was convinced that she was the new love of his life. She is very religious, very nice, very naïve, and very cute. Connor enjoyed having her lean over his shoulder to help him with an assignment he had no interest in completing. The one educational accomplishment she provided him with was an increase in his attendance. For whole one-and-half semesters he did not skip her class. He was not passing, but at least he was there. Then came the big announcement.

I wasn’t in the inclusion English classroom, but it was reported to me by eight students that Connor didn’t take the news well. All of the SPED students were in a small group for extra instruction on the daily assignment from the regular education teacher.

“I wanted all of you to know how happy I am,” Mrs. Bessemer said. “Barry and I are going to have a baby.” Knowing her fairly well I assume she was giddy in making the announcement.

“Mr. Bessemer is pregnant,” Sheila ask?

“Don’t be silly,” Mrs. Bessemer said while giggling. “God has blessed us.”

Mrs. Bessemer is the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher from a very small Tennessee town twenty-seven miles to the east of Nashville. Far enough away that she feels she and Barry are living independently and close enough that she can visit her father a mere six times per week. Her husband had taught at our high school two years earlier. When No Child Left Behind decreed that a GED student did not count toward graduation numbers for any government school, he left. As I recall, he dedicated a large portion of his teaching day to exploring the Internet and flirting with female students. Now he doesn’t spend as much of his time exploring the Internet. He discovered religion when he discovered his twenty-one year old bride. Now she was transforming him into her father.

It is safe to say that Connor did not take the big announcement well. He ask to be excused to go to the restroom and did not return to the class that day. Mrs. Bessemer wrote him the dreaded “pink slip” disciplinary report and forwarded it to his principal. The result was Connor receiving two days In-School-Suspension for skipping class. This set the course for him to destroy what progress he had made during English class.

Three days later he was assigned to my class all day for violating additional school rules; e.g., smoking on campus, skipping other classes, leaving campus, and cursing Mrs. Bessemer. She had denied him permission to leave class at which point he stood up and declared, “I don’t have to put up with this s*#^”! He slammed the classroom door leaving his former favorite teacher’s class and further exclaiming, “You can’t tell me what to do b*^#h”!

“I can’t have him in my class anymore,” Mrs. Bessemer said, explaining her fear to me. “He threatened me.”

“Well, he didn’t really threaten you,” I said, trying to calm her.

“It sure feels to me that he did.”

“His feelings were hurt.” I decided at that point to be a little more graphic with her. Perhaps part of me wanted to see her shocked, perhaps I just wanted to defend Connor’s position. “You know he has the [hots] for you?”

I do admit the redness that swept across her face was worth it. “Doesn’t he understand I’m married, pregnant, and his teacher?”

“Oh, he understands that. He also understands that in his mind you are close to his age and treated him very nice. Most women he has been around have not treated him very nice.”

“Well, I can’t have him around me after he threatened me.”

I understood she was not going to be receptive to Connor returning to her class. Everything she had been exposed to in “SPED 101” was lost on her. She was married, pregnant and scared of a student. The opportunity for her to make a difference in this student’s life was gone.

Connor “graduated” this year with a Special Education diploma. It is referred to as “not a real diploma” much like a GED is referred to as the “Good Enough Diploma”. The Bessemer’s world will be changed forever in August, after the birth. The unfortunate loss was the opportunity to maybe increase Connor’s English skills to the sixth grade level. My sense was that that Connor had been left behind years ago and we had missed the last chance to free him from the anchor of his life.

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