This I Believe

Nateisha - Quinby, South Carolina
Entered on June 26, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in lunch detention.

Recently, I had an opportunity to see and talk with several of my former students. Some have e-mailed, called, come by the school to visit, and approached me in the mall or a restaurant. They hug me, share their most sincere gratitude, summarize every detail of their young adult lives, and seek council for their dilemmas. Whatever my individual conversation with students I’ve taught in the past, several of them seem to remember and comment on a very significant experience: serving lunch detention in room 108.

While all of my students can tell you that I have a zero tolerance policy for disrespect and disruption, they might also joke that I have an honorary degree in translating teenage classroom misbehavior. My observations conclude that, while on the surface it appears that Johnny, who sleeps in class, is lazy and nonchalant about his education, he is actually saying, Please just give me a few minutes to sleep. I worked until 11:30 last night. And I have to work because Mama is counting on me to pay the light bill and car insurance. Further analysis has led me to conclude that Sally and Jamal’s blatant disregard for rule number four on my bulletin board, No eating in class, is a reflection of something more poignant. Sally’s really confessing, I’m trapped in an overweight body that I hate, and ironically, I turn to food for comfort. Jamaal’s situation is this: My mama hasn’t cooked in four days. I’m just hungry.

After teaching for one year, I decided to revamp my lunch detention policy. Soon, five to eight minutes of detention would become a time when students could share, receive guidance and counsel, ask questions, and learn more about me. Our conversations ranged from how they were getting along in their other classes to what emotional difficulties they were experiencing. In some instances, I’ve shared my own testimonies, read a scripture or a page from my journal, played an uplifting track from my CD collection, and even told stories from my childhood and college experiences.

I was oblivious to the impact these talks had on my children. Later, some students testified that our chats played a major role in their independence and healing from depression, anger, low self-esteem, arrogance, self-pity, and even racism.

In my classroom, I keep a Sunshine Folder, where I house notes from students. One of them reads, Mrs. Taylor, that day you told me in lunch detention that I am one of the smartest students you ever taught, you made me feel so good about myself. Another one reads, At first I thought you were just being mean when you gave me lunch detention for three days in a row. Now I know you were giving me so much more. Another student wrote, Thanks for the advice, Mrs. Taylor. You helped me find the confidence I needed to end an emotionally abusive relationship. Finally, my favorite note simply reads, Thanks Mrs. Taylor, for giving me lunch detention!