Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Izzy, the Way You're Going, You're Going to End Up in Prison Or Dead."

It turns out it was death that was waiting for him. I found out yesterday at work. I received a call from one of the staff at my former school. She said: "We just got confirmation that Izzy was shot and killed last night." There I was, standing in front of employees of DCPS' Office of Special Education, with tears welling in my eyes. I had to run to the bathroom and finish the conversation in a stall.

After hanging up the phone, I burst into tears. "Pull yourself together." That's what I told myself because it was the start of the day. I couldn't have my eyes moist with tears every few seconds, thinking about a former student. I'm at 825 for God's sake! Show no signs of weakness.

So, I managed to get through the rest of my day without crying, but when I got into my car on the way home, that the tears really starting flowing. Izzy was such a pain in the ass kid. He had ADHD to the extreme. The kid couldn't focus for longer than 2 minutes at a time. He was wildly inappropriate, always talking about sex or drugs or some other crazy thing that happened to him over the weekend or the night before.

But the kid was smart; sharp as a tack. As much as he got on my nerves, I wanted nothing more than for him to succeed because he had the wits about him to do it and he had the swagger to smooth people over. He wanted to get into business and he would've been the best damn salesman there ever was. The kid could could sell rehab to Amy Winehouse, he was that persuasive.

We had to implement a system, as a staff, for Izzy to keep him on task during class time. Every time he entered a classroom, he got a sticky note next to him. Each time he was off task, I would give him a tally mark to indicate his off-task behavior, with a limit for how many tally marks he could receive in a period. It was a visual cue to help him attend to academic tasks.

This was the greatest tool I utilized in the classroom with Izzy. He hated seeing the marks because it reminded him that he wasn't completing his work. It brought him back to reality and didn't allow for any of his BS. One afternoon, he was close to reaching the maximum amount of tally marks for my class period, which meant he'd be removed from my class. When he realized how many marks he'd received, he crumpled up the sticky note and had a little fit. I knew it was working because he hated it.

One day, Izzy was driving me over the edge. I was ready to strangle him. He was completely out of control and his language was extremely foul and crude. I finally pulled him out of class and was real with him. I explained how I thought he was so intelligent and was just throwing his life away on this "gangsta" lifestyle. I told him he could do so much better. "This is it," I said. "The end of the line, you're either going to jail or you are going to be dead, just like some of my other students."

I can see his face so clearly, now, staring back at me with that condescending look he would get. The face of youth; the face of invincibility. "Stupid, white lady." That's probably what he thought at the time, but it was that day that he knew that I really cared about where he was headed in his life.

If I had placed that bet on Izzy, like I wanted to with other staff members, that he'd be one of our first graduates, I would've lost. I thought for sure he'd see there was more to life than selling drugs. I'll never know, but I would guess that right before he was shot, he was running that smart mouth of his. The kids who shot him, probably did so to shut him the hell up. Maybe that's why there were multiple gunshots. He was just arguing his point of view right to the very end.

So, what is the lesson learned? I told you at the start that this wasn't the kind of blog with a moral. The reflecting, revealing type that comes with examining what's happened in the past and being able to learn from it. When it comes to untimely deaths, I have no answers, no great insight. But to quote one of my favorite lines from The Wire: "It all matters. We thought it didn't, but it does."

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