Dozens of educators gathered to tell stories about the challenges and joys of teaching at Ash & Elm Cider Co. The event was organized by teacher Ronak Shah and his organization, Teachers Lounge Indy. In the coming weeks, Chalkbeat will share a few of our favorites, edited for clarity.
Anita Saunders works with programs for young children at Indianapolis Public Schools. This story takes place during her time teaching at Tindley Preparatory Academy. For more stories about Indianapolis educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.
I was placed at an all-boys middle school. So in the year 2015, it’s my second year there. They decided to add fifth grade to the all-boys school, and they decided to make me the special education teacher.
I was given my own classroom, affectionately known as Room 402, and my own pupils. Now one student, he was known as Double D, was a fifth-grader. He had to stay with me all day.
So Double D and I spent our days together learning fifth-grade curriculum. Usually he was patient, he would do his work. Whatever I put in front of him, he’d try his best at it. I could send him to the office with a note, and I didn’t have to worry about him playing around in the restroom — stuff like that.
But as teachers know, every student has a honeymoon, and that honeymoon usually lasts from August/September to October/November.
Double D was soon to come to the end of his honeymoon.
I had been lulled into this false sense of complacency. The next thing I know, Double D is refusing to work. He’s falling asleep, he’s talking back, he’s yelling at me.
I need to figure out how to get my sweet Double D back because I miss him, and he was making progress when he was cool and laid back and listening. He wasn’t making any progress talking back and yelling.
So one day we get to school, and he’s just pacing the classroom. Pacing and refusing to work.
I said, “Double D, you know it’s almost holiday time. If you don’t get to work, Santa’s not going to bring you something.”
He was like, “That ain’t real.”
I was like, “What do you mean Santa’s not real? What are you talking about? … I know where you’re mistaken. You’re thinking about that puffy white guy that’s on TV. That’s not the one I’m talking about. I’m talking about Black Santa.”
And because Double D was a fifth-grader, he had not yet lost his sense of wonder.
At Target I found this Black Santa. And he had a list, and this list contained the names of some of the very boys in our school that Double D knew.
“Are you on this list?”
He looks the list up and down.
“No, I’m not on that list.”
I said, “Well what do you think you need to do to get on Black Santa’s list?”
“Well you’ve got to text him and tell him put me on there!”
I said, “Hey, I cannot lie to Black Santa. He will want to know if you’ve been doing your work and following the rules at home and at school.”
That afternoon, he was great. It was like sweet Double D was coming back. I put black Santa high up on the shelf on top of the smart board where the video camera is, way up there. I told him this is how Black Santa monitors us, and I’m texting him and emailing him — that’s how you know he’s real.
So our days go on like this, and he’s gaining back my trust. At the end of the day, we check back in with Black Santa. And you know, I’m thinking, “Yes! we’re going to make it to winter break. It’s going to be OK.”
The magic of Black Santa stuck for quite awhile.
So it’s the day before winter break and we have what’s called a community meeting where we gather the entire school together and we have a nice inspirational speech from our principal.
On this particular day, the principal has an announcement to make. They have found two boys in this school who have improved the most academically and behaviorally, and they are going to get extra gifts.
So I said, “Well, it can’t be my 402 boys. No one pays attention to my 402 boys.”
And then the next thing I know, the principal said, “…and from the fifth grade, as most improved, our very own Double D! Come on down!”
And I’m jumping up, cheering.
I’m helping him take his armload of presents out to his mom’s car. We get to the car, and as his mom is getting ready to drive away, I said “Yo, Double D — I guess you made the list”