I love it when kids surprise me with moments of real maturity. Last week, one such moment came out of a much uglier moment. One kid drew on another's face with marker, and the young man who was the canvas responded by swearing and calling the kid a "faggot." Now, I've made it quite clear to my students that I will not tolerate derogatory language, and discussed with them how such words are not only offensive, but can also be very hurtful without them even realizing it. Both boys were sent to the office, and I told them the next day that they'd have to serve a detention with me.
The following morning, I came into school and found a letter in my mailbox from the boy whose language got him into trouble. It was a very nice apology letter, and he maturely acknowledged that what he said was wrong and took responsibility for it. He explained that he'd been so upset because he had a job interview later that day and was afraid that the marker wouldn't come out, but said he knew this was not a good excuse. Here are some excerpts from the letter:
"I just hope you know it was not intended to disrespect anybody, I just allowed my anger to get the better of me, and I'm really, really, really disappointed in myself for allowing those words to come out of my mouth. Because not only did I make people uncomfortable by saying that, I lowered myself down to something I never wanted to....I want you to know I'm sorry and had no intent to disrespect the gay community by my use of vocabulary by any means. I was just stupid and didn't think of others before I reacted. I feel ashamed of myself because I know what I said could affect somebody. And I hope you know that's not the kind of person I am. This has taught me a lot and I know I will always remember to think before I speak."
I pulled him aside that day and told him how much I appreciated his words and that he took the time to really reflect on what he'd done. He could have just simply served his detention (which he'll still do) and let that be it, but it took maturity to admit he was in the wrong and to show a true understanding of WHY. I love these moments, because teaching is really about so much more than just making the students better readers and writers; we also want them to become good, consciencious, compassionate citizens. This young man took a good step in that direction, and I hope that he really does keep this lesson in mind.