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Omar's Story

joycetheriot's picture

The morality conversation during Jessica's workshop was interesting. No matter what the subject I think all teachers try to infuse a "right and wrongness" sense of morality within our classroom; difficult in a room full of teens twittering volleys of harsh criticisms. 
Nevertheless, every year I aim to create a culture of safe conversations. After I’ve learned the student’s names I try out seating groups that facilitate good collaborations. Usually by October it’s workable but last year I had one student who was hard to place. Omar was quite tall, rarely smiled but wasn’t mean either; just rather neutral. He was obedient, an average student but rarely talked, and students rarely talked to him. He “stuck out” in whatever group he was in. He wrote up data but didn’t do the labs. I became uneasy feeling some initial stirrings of mistrust and dislike building in my room. I needed an immediate action.
In the back I seated two jovial, somewhat talkative but really nice boys at a table. It was a good placement because they could work independently.  I decided to put Omar right between them and hoped it wouldn’t adversely affect a great team. Happily they accepted him and helped him with the content and labs. Nevertheless, Omar still hardly moved a facial muscle, and the boys just talked around him.

The turning point was one day when I was attempting to tone down the volume of the boys and just went with an idea. I called out “Omar, you know that I’ve told you a million times about talking so loud”! The room went stone quiet. “I’ll let it go this time Omar but you’ve been warned buddy!” Everyone burst into laughter and Omar smiled as both boys pounded him on the back. The Omar philosophy continued to grow and flourish. If I called to a student (directly opposite and across the room from Omar) to stop a behavior, they would say “Omar did it” and I would tell Omar to try and get some control. We all loved the idea. Omar smiled occasionally but there was no increase in grade nor did he talk much but the students liked him. Most importantly the culture of the class became increasingly positive. Students enjoyed being in the room just as was it evident that Omar enjoyed being the center of attention. Kids whacked him on the back, always said hello and Omar would smile a little but continued his calm serene style. Omar didn’t change but the class did; their viewpoint was altered and I was delighted. Then sadly in March Omar quietly told me that it was his last day since his family was moving. As soon as class started I immediately announced the news and we had that time as “Omar’s day” and allowed conversations. The very next day when I began the class quite a few students said how it just wasn’t the same without Omar and how they missed him.
A boy who rarely said a word had become a hero.
In June after the students were gone, the chairs were placed upside down on the tables. As I passed the back table going to my projects room the middle chair caught my attention.  I walked over and my heart fluttered a bit when I saw the boys had traced there in large bold letters: OMAR.