“Miss, can I leave at 1:30 to go to a job interview at McDonald’s?”
We have 370 students, and while that is small for a school, I normally can’t spend a lot of time with a single student. However, there was something so compelling about Alonso’s deep, resolute desire to go to this job interview that reminded me of what teenagers crave most: independence and responsibility.
“I’m sorry, but no.” Alonso is a 12th grade who arrived in 2016 from the Dominican Republic, speaking no English, and I was impressed by how articulate he had become.
“I need this job, miss. My father, he has—” he searched for the word— “an injury. He got an injury and he can’t work many hours. I need to help my family.”
I was worried about Alonso. He still needed to pass three state exams to graduate and was slated to take all three in January. He was arriving late to his first-period class on a regular basis.
“But I don’t have enough money for senior dues.” Seniors Dues were expenses for senior trips, the yearbook, and prom. Hearing this broke my heart a little.
“Miss, it took me three months to get this interview. I have tried to get a job since August and nobody will give me a job because they all say I need experience. I can’t get experience without a job. They wanted to interview me at 9 a.m. but I told them I have school until 2:40 so they said I can come at 3:00. It’s in Manhattan. I have to leave by 1:30 to make sure I get there early. So please.”
There was something about the way he asked—I saw how badly he wanted this. As the principal, I had to ensure Alonso attend his classes. But as a person, I deeply understood his yearning to get a job. He was dressed nicely for the interview, with a button-down shirt and clean work boots.
I said “no” again and sent him back to class, but I kept thinking about him. I called his father, who said, “School comes first.” So, parents support for no job, yet I knew Alonso probably didn’t want to ask his parents for money.
I spoke to my assistant principals about it, and we came to a consensus: we wanted Alonso to stay in school, but we also knew it was a delicate balance, as he could get angry, leave anyway, and stop talking to us altogether. I decided to see if I could reschedule his interview and stopped by his Advanced Placement Spanish class. His teacher whispered to me to make sure I listen to him, as he was set on leaving early.
I took him to my office. “Let’s at least call McDonald’s and see if I can reschedule the interview,” I said to him.
Alonso reluctantly helped me to find the correct McDonald’s on Google Maps, and we called.
The manager answered. “I’m sorry-that interview was cancelled. Until further notice.”
“Can you tell him?” I asked, and passed the phone to Alonso.
Alonso listened, and I saw a wave of disappointment wash over his face. “OK, thank you,” he replied politely, and without expression, handed me the phone.
“I’m sorry, Alonso,” I said, knowing how disappointed he was.
“I guess I have English class now. Thank you miss.” He walked back to his class.
Alonso didn’t know that actually, this had worked out in his favor: for the next two months, he could fully focus on school, and have a much greater chance of success on his January exams. The interaction with Alonso also reminded me that not all of my students are typical kids: they’re thinking of bigger things like supporting their families and themselves.
The names of students have been changed.
Photo credit: skhakirov, Creative Commons License.