One morning last year, DTS student Andrea* said she needed to talk. Her science teacher had humiliated her in class, calling her “four-eyes” when she asked for a moment to put her glasses on in order to read a textbook passage out loud. He followed with, “You look so ugly in your glasses, and just so you know, they don’t make you any smarter.” Andrea was devastated. She warned me not to be surprised when she earned an F on her report card because she planned to cut science for the rest of the semester. I asked her to think about who her plan actually hurt. “Him!” she said. “He’s going to feel the consequences of you failing the class?” I asked. The lightbulb turned on; the only person punished would be herself. “Andrea, I know you don’t want an F, what is it that you do want?” After a moment, she said, “I want an apology, and I want him to know he cannot talk to me that way.” I accompanied Andrea to the classroom and asked the teacher to step outside. Andrea said her piece and he listened. He then apologized. And while she no longer liked or respected him, she got what she wanted, returned to class, did her work and earned a good grade.
This was a moment when I was so grateful that DTS exists. Without quick intervention, Andrea was going to sabotage her future, her ability to graduate from high school and go to college. While her instinct to disappear from the class was a normal response, in the end, she realized it would be at her own expense. She used her analytical skills and her voice to get what she wanted and needed.
Sometimes I wish I had a magic wand that would instantly remove educators like her teacher – but then I remember that people like him are the reason students need to develop self-advocacy skills; once honed, this life skill is far more powerful than any wand.
* Students’ names have been changed in the interest of privacy.