The Bitter Taste of Defeat

This post is a bit of a departure for me. I usually write about the sunnier side of my life; what I’m doing, planting, or making. I usually don’t spend too much time talking about my day job. I think I’ve had two posts total about being a teacher, because there are enough teacher blogs in the world and that’s only one facet of my life.

Today is a bit different. My partner teacher, the Fella, and I took my seventeen middle school students to the Health Museum.  It was amazing. We did experiments in the Debakey Cell Lab. My kids had an awesome experience with the people there. Everyone was welcoming and kind.

Everyone brought packed lunches and we decided to cross the street and eat at one of our city parks. They were setting it up for an event or wedding, so the Fella scouted ahead and checked if it would be alright if we ate there. He mentioned we had some kids from a field trip. He was told it wouldn’t be a problem.

Not many teachers can say this, but my middle school students are wonderful. They are polite, conscientious, and reasonably well behaved. They’re kids; not robots! We sat down at some picnic tables and everyone started eating and socializing.

We were nearly finished. One of my kids actually came to me, I kid you not, and asked me for a bag so he could walk around and collect everyone’s trash. We had a couple kids taking naps in some lounge chairs; teenagers love to sleep. I was looking for the directions back to the school on my phone when a man from the park services came up to Fella, Partner Teacher, and me. He began to aggressively explain the rules of the park. “School groups are not allowed to eat lunch here.” “You need a reservation to visit.” This was not information of which we adults were aware.

Naturally we started to round up the kids, who were all seeing this man shouting at his teachers and chaperone. They, to their credit, moved quickly and packed up their belongings and cleaned up their spaces, while the man hovered over us barking orders.

It was uncomfortable enough, but when we lined the kids up against a wall to count them and make sure that we had EVERYONE before leaving, the man decided it was necessary to shout at the kids to get off the wall. My kids left the park feeling attacked, demoralized, and subjected to discrimination. They felt that because they are young people, they are not welcome in their city’s green spaces.

So why did I name my post “The Bitter Taste of Defeat?” Simply put, I failed to protect my kids from abuse. A day of fun, while not ruined, was dampened because someone failed to treat us with any kind of respect. Yes, respect. I think kids deserve respect. They are human beings after all and none of them were doing anything wrong. If the man in question had simply and professionally explained the rules (which weren’t posted anywhere we could see…they are on the website though…like I’m going to be checking my phone for longer than the 2 minutes it takes to plug in coordinates when I’m watching 17 tweens and teens.) He could have asked us to leave and we would have cleaned up and been on our way, like we were. Instead, he had to color these kids’ experience with something negative and teach them that no, at this age they aren’t as valued by society as individuals, but rather seen as packs of roving trouble makers.

To my kids’ credit, they turned this into a teaching moment themselves. They first explained to the adults that they felt like the man was “ageist” and that they think they want to do something to change things. First they wanted to protest. Now I think we are going to write to our park services people to talk to them about steps that can be taken to prevent others from experiencing the same treatment. Sometimes the bitter taste of defeat can turn into the sweet taste of success when you realize that your kids are becoming the young men and women you want them to be!