This is the sixth installment in an audio series called What My Students Taught Me. Each episode features a teacher reflecting on a particularly challenging student, in counterpoint with the student’s version of the same events. Listen to the previous installments here or subscribe on iTunes.

During the first few weeks that Ashley Lamb-Sinclair taught 15-year-old Connor Cummings’s sophomore English class, the two of them had a great rapport.

But their relationship changed dramatically a few months later, when Lamb-Sinclair returned from maternity leave. It was 2012, an election year, and the teacher started getting pushback from some students at North Oldham High School, located in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, about her liberal leanings.

Connor was a ringleader of the resistance. On one memorable occasion he erupted during a heated class discussion, shouting something along the lines of, “Liberals like you are ruining the country.”

All of Lamb-Sinclair’s efforts to talk through differences with Connor that year proved in vain.

It wasn’t until years had passed that the two of them had a frank discussion about what had transpired in the classroom that spring. And Lamb-Sinclair learned that, for Connor, the outbursts and rage were about far more than politics.

Listen:


Music used in this episode: “Story Four Theme” by Blue Dot Sessions; “Lacquer Grove” by Blue Dot Sessions; “White Limit” by Blue Dot Sessions; “In My Head” by Podington Bear; “Thoughtless” by Blue Dot Sessions; and “Black Eyed Susan” by Podington Bear.                  

This project was produced in collaboration with the Teacher Project, an education reporting fellowship at Columbia Journalism School dedicated to elevating the voices of students and teachers.