So today I was teaching my 8th graders when, out of the corner of my eye, I see Juan Carlos push back his chair and barf on the floor.
I think I said something like, "Oh. Oh, my."
I quickly ran over to him as the choruses of "OHHHH SHIIIIIIIIT" and "AYYYYYYY QUE NOOO" began. Poor Juan Carlos. He looked up at me, took one step toward the door, then puked all over the floor again. Luckily, I have a really strong stomach and others' vomit only marginally affects me, otherwise I would have been a goner.
I didn't know what to do. I said something else stupid, like, "Are you okay?", then directed him over towards the trash can. He chose instead to hurl in the blue recycle bin.
"Miss, that ain't PAPER!" someone yelled. I shot a Look of Death across the room, but secretly thought it was a little funny.
"Come on," I told Juan Carlos. "Let's go in the hall." I propped the door open. Juan Carlos took one step in the hall with the recycle bin then ralphed on the FLOOR right outside my classroom.
I said like 6 different bad words in my head.
As Juan Carlos began to fill the recycle bin with bits resembling little pink erasers and pickles (seriously), I looked inside the room and motioned to my most motherly student to escort him down to the nurse. The two of them left. Then the loudspeaker came on.
"Attention, students and faculty. At this time, we will be releasing the 8th grade class to the homecoming pep rally."
First I looked down at the huge pile of vomit near my feet. Then I looked inside my room at my class. For maybe the first time this year, every student was silent, looking at me with wide eyes. Juan Carlos had created a barrier of vomit in the doorway, and I knew what each one of the remaining students was thinking. Then Jameisha said it out loud.
"Miss, how we gonna get OUT?"
I paused for a second and shrugged my shoulders.
"You're going to have to jump."
Spotting each of my 29 8th graders as they long-jumped over a huge pile of barf is going down in my Top 5 Most Bizarre Life Experiences list.
I made Marlin stay after school today to talk about why he smirks like a fiend. We sat down face to face and he wouldn't talk, so I just started to grade papers in front of him. Thirty-five minutes later I looked up and he was crying. I said, "Is it something at school?" He shook his head no. "Something at home?" He didn't say anything. "Is there anyone you can talk to about it?" No, again. He just wiped his eyes with his sleeve.
"Marlin," I said. I waited a few minutes. "If there's one thing I want you to understand before you leave, I want you to know that I care about you. Not just how you do in my class, but as a person." Marlin stared out the window, but I know he heard me.
"You can go."
Marlin got up, walked across the room, knocked over a desk, then slammed the door.
If teaching was an actual roller-coaster instead of just an emotional one, it would be that crazy old wooden roller-coaster. Fun in an "I'm going to die" sort of way, and always just one loose screw away from collapsing.
I teach a lot of punks. In a typical work week, I will send 2-3 students to the office, will pull 7-8 students in the hall during class for “a talk,” and 10-12 parents will be called. Of all the aforementioned sassy envelope-pushers, there is only one that earns a genuine chance of getting tossed out the window by me.
Let’s call him Marlin.
Marlin doesn’t swear, and he isn’t loud. Marlin doesn’t violate dress code, antagonize other students, or get up out of his seat without permission.
Marlin smirks, and it makes me want to pull my own brain out and stomp on it.
As a certified Bratty Little Sister growing up, I am very familiar with the art of smirking. Minimal effort for maximum annoyance. Just wait until the right moment (when your prey is weak), muster up as much insolence as possible, and let it rip across your smug face. And maybe the reason it annoys me so much is that Marlin is so, so good at it. Much better than I was or could ever be. Marlin waits until I am on the brink of losing it, then finds something really, really STUPID to say. Enter: Marlin’s smirk.
(After returning from talking with another student in the hall)
Marlin: Miss, did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?
Friday is when Marlin almost ate the grass far below my window.
While my 3rd period co-teacher watched my class, I escorted my student and good friend Ed to the office for swearing and defiance (actually a funny story in itself-- on the way down to the office I said, “You know, Ed, it’s really sad you have to miss today. We’re doing something fun and I wish you could be there.” Ed replied by kicking the door in front of him and yelling “HOW CAN ANYTHING IN WRITING CLASS BE FUUUUUNNNNN?!?” I laughed, which made him say “Damn this shit,” which I also found hilarious and added to his office referral on a separate Post-it note.) When I came back, another student had acted up towards my co-teacher, so I walked yet another student down to the office. I returned to class pretty irritated, and when I opened the door the surviving students were wide-eyed and silent with fear.
Good, I thought. I made my way over to my desk and sat down to write an email to the assistant principal.
It was Marlin’s voice. I stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, checked my pulse. I looked up, and Marlin had his hood on.
“Marlin, I don’t know what you have to say, but you know that’s not how you get my attention during class, and you know that you have your hood on. Fix both of those things.”
Then I got sassy. I hate it when I’m pushed to sass. If I get sassy, it means they’ve already won.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, holding up a blank office referral off my desk. “Did you want one of these guys, too?”
Today in a department meeting, my principal informed everyone that I am a Rhodes scholar and how, among countless other career avenues I could have chosen with such a distinguished scholarship, I made inner-city teaching my mission. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't move or speak. Then the bell rang and everyone left.