Thursday night on the news I saw a former student. Justin was arrested for allegedly breaking into a house to steal some weed, and I'm fairly certain the newscaster said something about an AK-47. It was kind of heartbreaking.
I remember when Justin walked in my class on the first day of my teaching career. He sat next to a boy named Dustin, and they switched names on me. Dustin told me he was Justin and Justin told me he was Dustin and I was none the wiser. Isn't that clever? I can't believe they thought that up!
If you know about my brilliant skills in the art of name-learning you won't be surprised to know that I didn't really have them straight until January. (There was a Geoff and a Greg who did that to me a few years later, and so I purposely interchanged their names for the rest of the year as my own personal retribution.) As far as pranks go, it was harmless and contributed to quite a few laughs over the next two years whenever I saw him and had to think twice about his name.
Anyway, Justin was a great kid from the wrong side of the tracks. I'm pretty sure we had it out a couple of times, but always quietly in the hallway away from the audience of teenagers where we would have had to fight over our dignity as well as our "rightness." Like most of my kids, he was always very forgiving, and like family we could move right on from a bad day like it never happened.
Looking at Justin's mug shot plastered on the news wasn't shocking (his peer group and background had him halfway to jail before he was 12), but it was still a little sad. I know that he has it in him to be a good guy. I saw it five years ago and I don't think something like that just goes away.
It hit home that in the midst of this week - the craziest staff development marathon on record - I was really getting ready for some new Justins. Kids with good hearts who just can't seem to head in the right direction. My job, besides teaching reading and writing and TAKSing, is mostly to point. Sometimes I'll have to walk ahead and motion them to catch up. Sometimes I'll have to get behind them and start kicking. The pointing won't always work, but sometimes it will.
The idealistic part of me really hopes that Justin will think of all the people who love and believe in him (including me) and remember what it's like to have good choices and to choose them.
So I'm writing this here to remember what it was like to see Justin on the news. One of my babies. I am so lucky to have these kids at an age when they're choosing a direction. I have to do my best to send them the right way, and my best has to keep getting better. What a responsibility, privilege, and gift.
Bring on the kids!