Between the Echoes: What He Learned at School
An offshoot of Ed Trust’s Echoes From the Gap series, drawing stories of students from behind the statistics, this blog series shares shorter narratives — brief glimpses into classrooms and hallways — that give readers an opportunity to examine educator practices and policies through the intimate lens of student experience. All stories are based on interviews or first-hand accounts, but are shared with respect for the privacy of students and the adults around them.
He’s used to it. Entering the school door, he knows the drill.
Empties his pockets. House key, Cricket phone, and the little change he has.
“In the box.”
His favorite jacket. The one his father gave him when he got straight A’s the previous year.
“Take it off.”
His brother’s old belt wrapped nearly twice around through the threadbare loops of his khakis.
The same school resource officer all year. He still doesn’t know the boy’s name or even look at him as he passes through the blinking metal detector into the bleak interior of the building.
The bell rings.
“Stop. Go back.”
The pen he forgot in his pocket.
“Stop. Go back.”
“Turn around. Arms up.”
His peers, older than him, in the line getting restless.
The wand beeps over the buttons on the waistline of his pants.
Grabs keys, jacket, phone, belt, and change enough for a bag of chips and the bus home, and races down the hall.
His third time late to English class.
“Don’t run in the halls! Go back and walk.”
He goes back, knowing if he doesn’t he’s on an automatic detour to the office and the receptionist who looks at him over wire-rimmed glasses like she expects as much.
Up the stairs, lit with strips of dusty sunlight cast like a search light through the bars on the window too high up to justify them.
Down the hall, past decade-old stay in school posters with smiling white kids who never set foot in his school. Past heavy wooden doors closed and locked with windows papered over to deter anticipated riff raff. Past the drinking fountain that never worked.
He knocks on the door. Head down. He knows he’s going to hear it from his teacher.
She doesn’t know about the line that snakes outside the school with students fresh from long bus rides and taking siblings to school, hoping it moves fast for a change.
For a change.
“Late again. What did I tell you?”
All eyes on him. Flush with frustration and anger.
“You, of all the students in this class, can’t afford to be late with your grades.”
She’s setting an example.
No time for questions to invite nuance to the charges.
He’s an example. Not an individual.
Each day he goes class to class, questioned by adults who never seem to want to hear the answer, or simply figure they know it already.
“Why are you late?”
“What did I tell you?”
“Back in your seat.”
Madder and colder with each period, each reprimand.
And each day he leaves angrier. He wishes he wasn’t. He tries to shake it. He tries to tell them.
But he can’t.
So he learns to be silent, to pretend he doesn’t care. To show them he doesn’t need any of the things they’re not giving him.
He’s used to it.
He learned it at school.