Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lesson in the Final Confrontation

I pulled up to curb just as my friend from church was coming out of his garage. We shook hands and started walking toward the boy’s house. It was in need of repair – a new coat of paint, the fixing of window screens. So much would be needed to prevent further deterioration.

I stepped onto the front porch. The front door was wide open with the screen door shut. The top window was gone. Nothing would prevent bugs or birds from flying into the living room on this hot summer evening. The light and TV were on. I knocked on the screen door. Someone had to be home. I waited. I waited some more. I began to wonder if they were going to ignore me. I was about to knock again when a woman stepped up to the door. She was an older lady, rough around the edges. I introduced myself and said, “I need to visit with you about your son.” She turned away. “Let me get you his mother.”

As she disappeared into the back of the house, I looked back to the street. Two barefoot and shirtless kids were running along the sidewalk. They had the same facial features as the boy I was pursuing. I assumed they were younger siblings. Turning my head back towards the house I saw the mother approaching. Tightening the knot on her house coat, she stepped out onto the porch. She had a ragged, worn out look about her.

I introduce myself and my friend. I apologized for having to bother her about this issue, but I wanted to make sure she knew of her son's behavior. Without waiting for a response, I got straight to the point. I told her about the incident at the pool and the issues at my house. She asked me when the incident happened at my house. “After ten,” I told her. She said it couldn't possibly have been her son. He was on probation and his court-ordered curfew was at ten o'clock. I asked, “Was your son home last night?” She turned her head away.

Her pause gave my friend an opportunity to speak up. He had told her of the trouble he was having with her son. He reminded her of the stolen bike they had visited about early in the summer. His gentleness was evident as he spoke. He emphasized that he wasn't here to condemn her son.

I was not as kind. I continued to pound home the point I come to make. I told her that I wasn't there to get her son in trouble. I simply wanted my house left alone. I told her if it continued the police would be notified. “Surely you can understand my frustration,” I said.

“I don't blame you for being angry,” she said as she pointed to some broken trim on her front porch. “Him and his friends are always tearing up my house.” She didn’t know what to do with him. “He is mean to me and his younger brothers.” A wave of frustration and exasperation crossed her face as she stated, “He is mad that I don’t buy him the clothes that his friends are wearing. And I can't afford those clothes.” I could see that she was struggling to rein in her son and wondered if she had any help. I inquired, “Ma’am if you don't mind me asking, where is his father?” “I don't let my son be around him,” was her matter of fact reply. “He is in prison for raping me.” Suddenly my little problem became very small. My emotions changed. I scolded myself mentally, Okay you need to get a grip and be more gentle. I tried to be supportive. “I don't blame you for not wanting your son to be around his father. I wouldn't want my kids around someone like that either.”

Thank God my friend had come. He started to started to talk with her. “You know your son used to come to our youth group. He is always welcome to come back.” As he was speaking I thought, She’s probably doing the best that she can. I asked her if she would mind if we prayed with her. She didn't mind at all. As neighborhood kids played in the street and families enjoyed the summer evening on their porches, we joined hands and bowed our heads. I asked God to grant her strength and to protect her sons. As she gently squeezed my hand, I concluded my prayer thanking God for his great love for us and her sons.

My friend again offered the opportunity for her and the boys to attend our church. He even went so far to say that they are always welcomed to ride with him Sunday mornings. As we started to leave, she let me know that she would talk to her son about staying away from my house. I thanked her as my friend and I turned to leave.

Walking up the street to his house, I told him thank you too. He was kind and said that I did a great job speaking with her. I told him he helped me see through my anger and have compassion on her. We gave each other a hug and parted.

As I drove to my safe, clean home, I thought about the kids at my school. I wondered how many of them have situations at home that cause them to not be successful? I know when I was in the classroom, when kids didn’t perform as I expected, either academically or with their behavior, it was upsetting. I realized the kids with rough home situations needed the safe environment of school. As I pulled into my garage I thought to myself, Did I always make these students feel safe and welcomed in my class?

Since I’m no longer in the classroom, I can't make an immediate impact anymore, but I hope sharing this story will encourage educators to reflect on how they approach each of their students. Are they having empathy when working with students?  Do they know all of the circumstances of each student and their family’s struggles? How can they help a struggling student during the school day? With each story in a child’s life, there is a lesson for all of us. Are we willing to listen?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lessons in the Hunt

As I headed back to the pool, I decided to ask one of the employees if they knew who this kid was.  Somehow his reaction to me asking his name didn't sit right with me.  As I walked into the pool house, I immediately spoke with a pool manager.  I described the kid and said his name.  The manager gave me a inquisitive look and asked, “Don't you mean so and so?”  I told her I wasn't sure because this was the first time I had met the boy.  I described the boy again and told her what had happen.  She assured me it was this other boy, because he had just left the pool and was walking across the same street I was riding my bike down.  I told her my plan of talking to his parents, but she wasn't sure were he lived.    She also wasn't so sure how supportive the mom would be regarding correcting his behavior.  She was going to write his behavior down and suspend his pool privileges for the next three days.  I told her I appreciated it and thought to myself mom still needs to know.  I jumped in the pool to cool down from the chase, but my intentions to teach this young man a lesson was still heated.

The process of finding this young man's house was slow.   Through my connections I had found out that a family in my church was having trouble with this same boy.  My intent was to ask the dad of this family where the boy lived.  Because of my work picking up, I actually started thinking about putting it off.  My rationale was that he probably paid the price by losing days at the pool.  I also started to think that the mom may not even care about correcting her son.  I even started to think to myself, Who do you think you are trying to teach this boy a lesson?  You're not his parent!   I kept putting it off until a storm and eggs entered my life.

The worst wind storm of the summer hit our town a week after the pool incident.  Wind measured almost 110 mph in our town.  The next day I spent the evening picking up limbs.  I also noticed that a church sign promoting a community outreach function had blown away.  I had put it up in my yard the week before the pool incident.  I didn't think anything about it until a few days latter when I received a phone call from my daughter.  By the sound of her voice she was a little upset.  "Dad, did you know someone egged our house!"  "No I didn't. Where is it located?" I replied.  She said, "It's on the front of the house".   I asked her if she had seen any other spots and she "No I don't think so".  As I hung up the phone I thought, I’ll clean it up after work today.  After work I looked around and noticed another egg splatter on the front of the house and remaining egg shells on top of my roof.  My guess by the location of the splatter was that they would have had to come up on my lawn to hit the front of my porch and miss the overhang.  Finding out where this boy lived wasn't going to be put off any longer.  That evening I would be going to church and getting the information I needed.

Before our Bible study, I tracked down the dad of the family who had trouble with this boy.  I told him of the pool incident and the boy's name.  I asked if he would be willing to let me know where he lived.  He did and also offered to go with me if I wanted him to.  I told him he was welcome but it wasn't necessary.  As I struggled to pay attention during the night's study, I played through my head what I would say to the mother.  I had made up my mind that I would be direct and to the point.  I would emphasize that he needed to stay away from my house or the next call would be to the police to file a complaint.  Once the class was over I made sure my wife caught a ride home.  I met up with the other dad.  He said he had talked it over with his wife and decided he should go.  I thanked him for his support and I told him that I would follow him to the house.  As I started up my vehicle and pulled out of my parking spot I thought,  It's probably a good thing he is coming along. I don't know what I'm getting myself into and a witness might be good to have.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Lessons in the Chase

As I headed up the hill, I noticed one of the kids took off running to a nearby parking lot. When he started to hide behind cars, I knew exactly what I was up against.  Make like a tough guy, yell at someone when they are well past you, and then run off when they try and chase you down.  What would you call this type of person?  Sounds like a coward to me.  I suppose it is much better than someone that might try to fight their way out of the situation.  In all honesty the thought did go through my head, What if this kid tries to throw a punch at me?  This circumstance is a little different than at school where kids wouldn't pull this kind of behavior on a school administrator.  My next thought was, Are you sure you want to do this?

By now I was halfway up the hill and there was no turning back.  As I passed the other boy that was with this kid, I asked what this boy's name was.  “I don't know,” was his response.  I replied, “Sure you don’t” and kept moving toward the parking lot. When I turned in the lot I could see the perpetrator moving from one car to the next.  After a few moves past several cars, he decided it was all in vain and walked out to face the man he thought "sucked".

As I pulled up on my bike, I could tell he was bowing up his chest and ready for anything.  At least he is facing the facts, I thought to myself.  I came up on him at a fairly high rate of speed mainly from going into a sprint up the hill and then the downhill acceleration into the parking lot.  I came to a stop a couple of feet from him.  He was facing me with arms down and fists clenched.  I knew from other experiences in my profession and personal life that this was a position for two things. Defend or attack. His back wasn't to me in order to run off.  He was ready to defend, but my approach wasn't going to be physical.  I was going to work on his conscious more than anything else.

When my bike came to a stop, the first thing I did was ask his name.  He paused for a few seconds, which I thought was strange, then he told me his name.  I asked him, “Who are your parents?”  He replied, “Why do you want to know my parents name?”  I said, “I'm sure they would like to know how you are behaving.”  He said, “I don't know my parents’ names.”  My response: “You don't know your parents’ names?  Everyone has parents!”  He could see that the conversation wasn't going anywhere and starting to walk away.  As he walked away I told him that I would find out who is parents were and where he lived.  As I got back on my bike. I noticed his body language.  He was slumped in defeat.  He wasn't in the cocky aggressive position he was in before.  Was it because he had been held accountable for his actions?  As I made my way back to the pool, I couldn't help thinking, What if he doesn't have parents?

Join me in my next post to see how I tracked down where this boy lives.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lessons in a Confrontation

I enjoy running.  I know for some of you the two words just simply don't go together.  I got into running in high school.  I ran mainly long distance.  The mile was my favorite. The 880 yard dash was too fast for me and the two mile was too far.  If you know anything about track, I just confessed that I'm old because what I ran was yards not the "new" measure of running of today, meters.

For a period of my life, I actually gave up running.  With a family, teaching, and coaching three sports, I couldn't seem to find the time to run.  Any extra time that I had was early in the morning.  As much as I like to sleep in on a Saturday, that wasn't going to happen.  The past few years I have picked running again and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of exercise.  Running allows me a "get away". There are no phone calls, no questions to be asked, no work to be done while running.  If there is a good clearing of the mind activity, running is certainly one.

Sometimes I like to mix up my running with bike riding.  This was exactly what I was doing on the day that I had the beginning of a lesson in confrontation.  I had a great idea of riding my bike a few miles and then going to the public pool to swim a few laps.  In my mind, the cool water would be refreshing after a hot, middle of the summer bike ride.  Unfortunately my bike ride would turn into a something less refreshing.  

As I was nearing the end of my ride, I noticed three middle school aged kids walking across the street.  They were taking a little longer than usual to get across because of the angle they were walking up the hill.  I thought they should probably get across so no one hits them coming over top the hill.  As I approach them they were about halfway across and again thought to myself, If you keep walking, it shouldn't be a problem for me to keep going straight.  As they were clearing my path, one boy on the end decided to have a little fun.  His fun, not mine.

He made a motion like he was going to walk in front of me.  I tensed up and thought, Okay kid just stay were you are.  I then decided I was going to have to brake because he didn't seem to change direction.  Just before I hit the brakes he decided to "fake me out" and pretend to try and knock me off my bike.  At this moment I went from leaving the brake alone to just keeping it straight.  He could see that I wasn't fooled so he backed off.  As I went past him and then turned into the pool parking lot he must have realized that I wasn't fazed.  He wasn't going to back down in making a point because as soon as my bike came to a stop I heard from the top of the hill, "Mike Sanders Sucks!"

The first thing that came to my mind wasn't anger.  It was confusion.  How in the world does he know my name?  He isn't one of the kids at my school.  Surely I'm not that notorious as a school administrator that other school district kids think I suck?  As it turns out one of the kids he was walking with was a girl that attended my school.  With all of the distraction, I hadn't even noticed her.  I'm guessing that once he tried to pull his intimidating stunt, she told him not to do that because that is Mike Sanders her school superintendent.  I'm not sure that's exactly what she said, but she is a good girl at school so I going assume the positive about her.  

After the split second confusion, I decided that this young man had gone too far.  I wasn't going to let him smear my name at the top of his lungs in a public place.  I got back on my bike and pursued him.  Since I didn't know this kid, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into.  Some of you may be wondering about my common sense chasing after a unknown student.  Fortunately this was in the small town that I lived in so I believed I was safe in trying to teach this kid a lesson.  I wouldn't have done this in a big city, in a dark alley.  I would save that for the superhero on the screen or for law enforcement.  So up the hill I went in pursuit.

Join me in the next post to find out how my chase ended.