In January, I wrote a post called Small Victories, about a poem that one of my students ("Joe") wrote...
By Joe Student
I believe the bible is fake.
I believe god is not real.
I believe that clowns are evil.
I believe you can live without girls.
I believe foster care sucks.
I believe [this tiny town) is boring.
I believe school is boring.
I believe winter is cold.
I believe Mrs.4444 is decent.
I believe everyone is mean.
Joe, who is part of my "crew," fancies himself as a tough guy, and compared to other kids in our school, he might be, but his foster mom and I like to believe that it's all a front. Joe wrote that "foster care sucks," but I will tell you unequivocally that this boy is in a far better place today than he has ever been in his life, and he might even admit that (on a good day). He is with a family that is strong on structure and discipline, but also loving and giving him the chance others would never even consider.
Tonight, Joe, whose idea of a good time in his past might have been doing something illegal, attended the 8th Grade Dance. He'd tell you he was only going to get out of the house (he doesn't get out much, because of his behaviors). I was just glad he chose to come. He came with the plan of meeting up with a friend, but the friend did not show up. This young man, who fancies himself a social outcast, found himself at a dance in which he had none of his "usual" friends; I wasn't sure how he would react.
After a brief moment of grumbling about the friend who stood him up, Joe entered the gym and sat at a table alone. It wasn't long at all, though, before he was mingling a little with kids he knows a little bit from the lunchroom or from his regular-education classes. I was so relieved! After a little while, seeing that he was feeling a little awkward (he kept coming over to talk to me), I gave Joe my camera and suggested that he take some pictures, and off he went (there's nothing like having a camera at a middle school dance to help you gain instant popularity.) For the next couple of hours, we spoke a few times over the photos he was taking, but other than that, Joe blended in like everyone else and clearly was less a "fish out of water" and more a "bird of a feather," so much so, that this "tough guy," this wannabe "thug," who normally behaves the "rebel," surprised me....
by doing The Chicken Dance.
The next time Joe decides to act like a tough guy in class, I just might say, "Nana nana nana na, Nana nana nana na!"
...and dare him not to smile.