Tuesday, March 17, 2009


My student Raheem brought a cell phone to school yesterday. It was real, and it worked, and it was his. His dad bought it for him. Sigh.

He didn't mean to take it out at school. His dad told him to keep it in his pocket just in case. But it fell out on the bus, and someone saw it, and they told me.

It's against the rules for students to have cell phones at school. Raheem is a terribly conscientious student -- serious, thoughtful, and very, very empathic. (He's the one who raised his hand one day at Morning Circle and said, sadly, "Ms. Swamp, I saw on the news that there are women and children starving to death in Africa.") I had to ask him for the phone. He hesitated a minute, with a sad look on his face, and then reached in his pocket and gave it to me.

"Raheem," I said. "The rule is that you can't have cell phones at school. I have to take it to the office."

"But can I have it back at the end of the day?" he asked.

"You can have it back when a grown-up from your family comes to get it," I said.

He looked dismayed.

"I didn't know I wasn't supposed to bring it to school," he said.

"I know," I answered. "You won't get in trouble. We'll just make sure your family knows you can't bring it to school."

He walked away dejectedly. Later he asked again if he could just have it back, if he promised not to bring it to school again. I told him I just couldn't give it to him, and I explained that one of the big reasons for the rule was that other kids might take it, or it could lost, and then he and his family would all be upset.

He was straightening up his desk before heading to art.

"Ms. Swamp," he asked curiously. "Did you ever have a phone taken away from you when you were little?" I couldn't tell if he was trying to appeal to my sympathies, or just thinking about what a hard day it was and wondering if I had ever felt like him. "Oh no," he answered his own question. "I guess not, because you didn't have cell phones back then, did you?"

This was not meant as a joke. It was a thoughtful awareness of how my experience was different from his, and how things have changed over time (not all second graders are so aware of this). He was putting himself in my shoes (and perhaps wishing I would put myself in his).

His dad came, I explained the cell phone situation, and everyone ended up feeling fine about it. I got a cute little story out of it. And Raheem got to feel disappointed and worried, and then have everything come out okay, and realize it wasn't the end of the world. Which isn't a bad thing.

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