Today you stole away an entire day’s worth of education belonging to one of my female students. Today you stole away countless chances for her to interact, collaborate and learn with her peers. Today you stole away my female student’s chance to work in class on lessons that her teachers carefully constructed just for her class.
Today you stole away: 9 periods worth of her classroom time.
Today you stole away seven hours of her education.
Today you stole away 420 minutes of her education.
Today you stole away 25,200 seconds of her education.
This student, let’s call her Sandra, spent her day on school grounds. However, she spent her day isolated. Sent to another building with other “trouble kids,” she sat in silence. I wonder if she spent the day seething at injustices or if she was holding back tears of confusion and embarrassment. Maybe it’s worse, maybe she has simply accepted what you have stolen from her today. After all, she’s not the only one who has had these experiences. She might not even be the only one today.
Today, my student showed up to school on time. Despite the fact that there are three inches of snow on the ground and that the temperature outside is barely above zero. Today, when many others didn’t even bother, she showed up. She got out of bed, got dressed, grabbed her backpack and she showed up.
As an educator, I cannot explain to you how hard it is for some students, and how crucial it is for all students, to show up.
She got to school and decided to leave her coat on. Our hallways are chilly, but coats are against safety policies. A teacher asked her to take it off. She explained that she was cold. She was told to take it off. She did and, seeing a small flash of flesh, my student was sent to have the rest of her day stolen away.
Today my student was sent to a small room, in a different building, to sit in the crushing silence of In-School-Detention for daring to show a sliver of flesh.
Today I was to teach the students that, as a student teacher, I normally teach for free — or for me 7k a semester, depending on how you look at it. Today, I was an official substitute for the teacher whose class I have borrowed for the last 110ish days. This comes with certain privileges, but also many limitations. For example, like many building substitutes, I don’t have an email with which to correspond to other teachers.
Also, like most teachers, even if I had a school email there would only be certain times of the day I would check my email. As a sub, I don’t receive emails related to suspensions, absences, or in-school-detention. Therefore, imagine my surprise when a student in my fifth period asked if he could take the daily worksheet down to Sandra, “she’s downstairs.”
“Why is she downstairs?” I asked, completely confused. This is a fairly large school and each level of the school is sectioned off for each grade level. There is really no reason a freshman should be downstairs with the seniors.
I had noticed she wasn’t there, but I had no way to know that she wasn’t simply absent.
The male student replied so nonchalantly, “She got in trouble this morning for a dress-code violation and now she is in AIM all day.” Of course, he saw little issue with this, apparently dress-code violations and their punishments were common here.
Dear Administrators/Educators/Whoever-the-hell decides these things,
For the record, you can call these programs whatever happy, unicorn, flowers and rainbows name you want. The students aren’t falling for it and neither are your teachers. You’ve locked the “behavior students” away in a different building — sometimes for multiple days — and it’s still going to be a bad move. Even if you call it “Reach for the Skies” or whatever else name makes it so you feel less guilty, it still won’t fix 90% of the problems that caused the students to be in there in the first place.
— I digress.
I cannot describe to you my outrage and my struggle to maintain my composure in front of this student. I felt a true, protective and fierce anger come over me as I processed what was said.
I struggled to comprehend. So, my student — who, by the way, is on IEP and is legally required to have extra time on all assignments — had an entire day’s worth of her education stolen and THEN no one even bothered to come get her assignments?!
Shortly after class, lunch began and I sought out the room that she was in. Little did I know that the room she had been banished to wasn’t even part of the building. Instead, I walked across a small road behind the school into an even smaller building. I wanted to see her and hear from her, as well as explain to her what had happened in class.
I had and have so much to say to her, to these readers, to other educators, and to Americans all over. I told her that I would be looking into what had happened and that I was also upset.
The truth is that I don’t wield that much power. But, also, the truth is that I promise to try. All I can say is today my student had an entire day of her education stolen because her shirt was a few inches to short. This is not okay.
It is not okay to boil a student’s education down to a few inches. On my way to see her I passed three boys with dress-code violations that no one bothered to correct! Furthermore, we continue to ignore the fact that student dress codes often discriminate against young women, especially women of color.
How have we reduced whether a student deserves a day of education down to whether or not I can see two inches of her stomach? How can we decide this based on whether or not a young woman of color has “too much hair?” We must, must, do better. We must stop mandating that teachers pay such close attention to adolescent bodies, when there is already such few moments for paying attention to their minds.
**I have not posted a picture of her shirt; although, I asked her if I could take one to show the administrators at my school. I am not posting it in an effort to protect her privacy.**