Teaching Our Boys to Be Strong

It was my second year of teaching, and my kids were so much more fun then my kids from the previous year. They had so much personality and were not afraid to show it. Heck, sometimes they couldn’t mask it or contain themselves. I had this one student James (for the purpose of keeping his identity anonymous) who started off the school year rough. He was not really retaining the information and was doing the bare minimum, if that. As a result he failed the first two quarters. 

Throughout the year I spoke with his mother pretty frequently about some of the small issues I was having with him, mostly his silliness in class and these random noises he would make. He was a good kid, however the struggles of transitioning into 9th grade really got the best of him (peer pressures, trying to fit in, adjusting to the workload and independence, finding his place.. etc.) So, even though he somewhat got it together the last two quarters, it wasn’t enough to prevent him from going to summer school. 

This was my first summer teaching summer school, and I was totally winging it! I was trying to figure out How do I fit a whole year of content into just a few weeks?The expectation was also that all of the students in summer school who didn’t pass the Regents the first time around, would retake it after summer school and then pass. Soooo, was this summer school or Regents review? 

Anywho, James was in this class and he was doing well. I mean it was everyone’s second time seeing the content, so it should have been easier. 

One day James came into class and he was really quiet, I mean SILENT! That was completely unlike him. I addressed it after giving him time to settle in, thinking maybe he needs to take a walk or vent really quick before class starts. I ask him to come into the hallway so we could talk. NOTHING. NO RESPONSE, no eye contact, he just sat there blinking as if he was the only person in the room an nobody around him existed. So I left him alone, I had a class FULL of students and honestly there was nothing I could do in that moment. He just sat there, in that state for the whole hour and half or so of class. He didn’t take anything out, didn’t pay attention at all to the lesson, and even ignored his peers when they asked what was wrong. 

Class ended and he left out before I could speak with him. I figured he was just having a bad day and maybe tomorrow would be better. Well the next day was exactly the same. I thought to myself why come if you’re just going to sit there. Something had to really bothering him, because I had never seen this side of him. So, after class I called his mother and explained to her what the last two days of class were like for him. She broke down into a real heavy sobbing cry. I just sat on the phone in silence (what else could I have done besides let her get it out.)

She began to apologize while sobbed saying, “I thought he was past this.” She began to explain that they were struggling, and always have been. He and his brother didn’t have the nicest things or nice things at all when they were younger. Their father wasn’t around so she was doing and had been doing the best she could do to provide for them. She shared that when he was in fourth (or fifth) grade he was being bullied at school. The whole school year went by and she had no idea (not judging because this happens often.) It had gotten so bad that one day he had this break down, where he just stopped speaking. Days went by and we would just be mute. She didn’t know what else to do, so she took him to get evaluated. The clinician was able to get him to talk about what happened, which was when he shared what he was experiencing at school. 

She asked why he hadn’t told anyone what was happening, and most importantly why he hadn’t told his mother. His response was along the lines of My mom does a lot all by herself. I help her take care of my brother when I can, but I had to be strong for her. I didn’t want to upset her or stress her.So he pretty much held everything thing in because he needed to be strong for his mom and strength didn’t come in the form of needing her help or needing her to handle what he was dealing with. 

Over my five years of teaching, I have met so many James’s. Not because he was bullied, but because of this idea that he had to hold everything in. While he wasn’t taught that directly, it is something that manifested from the reality of his situation. It made me reflect and think about all of my students who were taught either by parents, family, or even society (social media.. etc), that if you show emotion you are weak. That you have to be STRONG and MASCULINE, a macho man. That you can’t have feelings, and if you do you have to hold them in. 

So what happens? Well, I suppose some positives are you create a man who has the desire to provide, and hold his family down. Maybe even someone who can or at least desires to be in a position to defend his family, if need be. But what’s the downfall of this narrative? In my experience, it creates children who have no emotional outlet. Children who learn to bottle everything in, and ultimately explode in one form or another. It creates children who are emotionally unbalanced. It forces our kids to hold the weight of the world on their fragile shoulders. 

Ultimately, these children can turn into grown men who are emotionally cold. Men who don’t know how to communicate effectively. It can create men who are scared to trust people because they have no experience allowing someone to be there for them and help them through the rough times. It creates unhealthy men, who foster unhealthy relationships with women and others around them. This cycle continues until they learn (sometimes through some form of counseling) that it’s ok to need help. It is ok to say you’re scared. It is ok to be emotionally vulnerable. Showing emotion doesn’t make you weak or feminine, it makes you human. 

Hopefully this gave you something to think about. Feel free to share your thoughts whether you agree or disagree. All comments, views and responses are valued and welcomed. Also subscribe and follow me on IG and/or Twitter.

6 thoughts on “Teaching Our Boys to Be Strong

  1. 🙌🏿🙌🏿 I agree with your statement “showing emotions don’t make you weak”. In our community that’s something that’s taught. What we need to teach is how to be self aware of those emotions , and how to understand them. Instead of telling one stop feeling like that , we should help them figure out why they’re feeling like that. Let them know it’s ok to have those feelings but how can we manage those emotions so they won’t take control of our actions and impact our current state of being alive.

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    1. You’re right and that’s the purpose of this blog. To bring light to the long term effects of how it is taught in our community. The problem is, while they should be taught how to understand them like you said, they are taught to suppress them. Great response!

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  2. Great read. Really sheds light on how men and woman may be conditioned to hold in all emotions and just survive. Our emotions become secondary to their circumstances. Thank you 🙏🏾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!!! EXACTLY MY THOUGHTS though.. it happens with young boys and girls. The effects on girl are the same and completely different at the same time, but that’s a whole different conversation!

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  3. Have you been in contact with James? Did you provide and support to help him through? Did he open up?

    The DOE needs teachers like you , teachers that take the time to be the catalyst in a child’s life. I had a similar situation when I was in high school, with my English teacher. He noticed that I was struggling and was withdrawn after the death of my father and he refused to just let me be. He pushed and motivated me, gave me support in an environment where there really isn’t a support system set up that young kids can trust. I hope everything worked out with James.

    I completely agree, with allowing boys to be emotional and talk out their feelings. Being a mother with son I try to make him feel safe to come tell me anything, I try create a safe space that will always be held for him emotionally. At 6 he is the most loving human I have met, no credit to me. I believe it is his personality why he is the way he is but my husband and I don’t tell him “be tough” or “boys don’t cry” BS, we just let him be the emotional , caring and loving being that he is.

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    1. I did stay in touch with him the following school year because I was at the same school. I was able to pull him from lunch every here or there, or even just do a quick “hey how you feeling, if you need to talk you know where to find me” in the hallway. He never found me and always told me he was ok, but my goal was for him to know he could come to me if he needed. His mom ended up getting him into counseling which is great. Im no longer at the school, and didn’t have contact information for him, but he’s supposed to graduate this year ❤

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