When I was in cosmetology school, there were some topics that we were told not to talk about and religion was one. Though that was more than twenty years ago, I still believe this to be true.
I often tell people that I am not religious when they begin talking to me about whatever they believe is real. I am not rude about it, but as a rule of thumb, I just want people in general to know because people tend to gravitate toward me and I think they should know what they are getting themselves into. I consider myself spiritual. Yes, I was raised Southern Christian Baptist, but over the last two decades, I just sort of veered toward something less complicated. For all intents and purposes, let’s just say, that by textbook definition, given the rigidity of the laws of what a Christian should be, I am a Heathen.
Because I teach students who are entering and exiting puberty, and because I teach literature, sometimes the subject of God is unavoidable. When it arises, I try as much as possible to answer questions with all the knowledge that I have and Google the rest. I have no problem with saying ‘I don’t know,’ and seeking out another source. But I also like that I will listen to their beliefs and their theories about religion without judgment.
Over the last couple of years, I have struggled with the students that I currently have. My school consists of ninety-nine percent African-American, primarily Christian, Democratic-believing, conservative view having a group of students who are also very matter of fact. This causes a lot of problems when it comes to teaching them. Which brings me to one student in particular. Last year, I had my students read Things Fall Apart one because it is an excellent novel, and two because there are enough copies for everyone thanks to an old grant. One student who has stayed on my radar for several reasons said that she would be unable to read the book after I instructed them to take it home and tell their parents what it was about. Now in sixteen years of teaching, no student has ever stated that they couldn’t read a book before. And this really shocked me because we had already read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison that year and it is on the banned book list. I gave her a copy of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsoliver and after she sent a picture of the cover to her mother and pastor, she said that it was ok.
In order to understand where this is going, I have to provide some context about this student. I have known her since her freshman year and have said, since the beginning, that she has struggled with depresssion. I have expressed this sentiment to her mother, the counselor, her, and the therapist. All, to some degree, have agreed. Because I struggled with this disease myself for a long time, I knew the signs and I also knew that in the time where suicide was being seen as more of an option for our students thanks to social media, that I should check on her as much as I could. Recently, she came to my door and told me that I was right. When she said this, I got up, walked over to her and tried to get this now 18 years old to seek counseling which she refused. Because I had followed all of the proper channels, I had to let it go and continue with my check-ins during the school day.
For Christmas, this student got me a gift. This is not common for me. I am used to my sister who is a grammar school teacher getting all of the gifts so I was ecstatic. That was until I saw the note inside telling me that I was wrong about her, that she was stressed because the school was stressful and that she was “very happy” and that I should come to her church to see for myself.
Of course, I’m not going because I do not feel as if I should have to attend her church in order to prove anything to her. I have long since passed that stage; nor do I believe that she fully understands what she is saying and how it goes against what she is doing.