Things I Heard This Week

Feeding the BirdsI teach in a district that’s had some struggles in recent years. We’re majority-minority and 100% of my kids are “free and reduced lunch” (mostly “free”). Add in eighteen months of not having real school and the fact that most of the schools feeding into mine are already under state “control” (an ironic term by any measure), and it’s easy to grow discouraged. There aren’t always those “breakthrough” moments you count on to stay motivated - personally or academically. 

All the more reason to build a few monuments to the encouraging or amusing episodes which do occur from time to time. Here are three from this past week. 

Episode #1:

My 4th hour is not my largest class, but it does tend to be my most challenging. I consider myself fairly reasonable in terms of basic expectations, and yet I’ve somehow ejected more students for egregious violations during that period this year than all my other hours combined. 

Two of my most challenging girls in that class are Anaiyah and Tamara. They are spirited young ladies of color and often have difficulty with impulse control (which, to be fair, is true of most freshmen). Anaiyah has a very low reading level but isn’t “slow” by any meaningful measure, while Tamara is the quintessential “so much potential if she ever chooses to use her powers for good and not evil,” dressed in more style and sass than I could manage on my best day at any age.  

4th period is 15 minutes longer to accommodate multiple lunch periods. (That’s part of what makes it such a challenge.) We had some time left over one day and Anaiyah asked if she could work on her math homework, which of course was fine. A few minutes later she asked if I knew how to do one of the problems. It looked easy enough - one of those “solve for X” types that starts off as 8x - 19 = 3x + 6 or whatever and the goal is to isolate the X on one side of the equal sign. 

I mean, that’s doable, right? But… it’s been a few years, and I messed it up. 

That’s when Tamara came up and asked if she could use the legal pad on which I’d butchered basic algebra. She proceeded to take us both through the proper steps while presumably echoing her math teacher, all without a trace of impatience or sarcasm:

“The first thing we gotta do is get rid of one a' them extra numbers. If we add 19 over here, we gotta add it over there too so they still equal, right? That leaves us with… (*does some figuring*) 8x = 3x + 25. That already look better, don’t it? Now we gotta figure out how to simplify the - I forget what they called - the numbers with ‘X’ in ‘em. We can do that by…”

For those of you playing along at home, x = 5 in this case. The sad thing was, I knew that from the beginning and still couldn’t remember how to get things there. But Tamara could, and did. It was an excellent two-minute lesson, and when it was through, Anaiyah was able to do the next few by herself using the same steps. 

It was beautiful - not because the math was super complicated, but because the presentation was so gracious and confident. I talk a good game about what many of my kids are capable of, but it’s nice when it jumps out and kicks me in the face like that. 

Episode #2:

I was walking towards the teachers’ lounge to heat up my lunch when I passed a group of girls at their lockers talking loudly. One was saying - "so she keeps grabbing my balls and I'm like, get your hands OFF my balls!"

I don’t get too worked up by vulgarity when it’s not directed at another person in anger, but I still paused - "Language, ladies - language!" - before walking on. I didn’t expect trembling or humbly begging for forgiveness, but I was slightly surprised at how they all three just kinda stopped and stared at me, confused, for a moment. Still, I only have 30 minutes for lunch, and I figured I’d done my part to shape the destinies of the young with my wisdom and guidance in that brief chiding. 

Behind me, I heard the same girl pick up where she’d left off: "So then, I get THREE STRIKES IN A ROW! And I'm like, Hah! Top that!"

They were talking about bowling. 

Episode #3

We don’t take our books home here (they don’t tend to ever make it back) so I have shelves in my room for kids to stack their materials. Several extend in front of the windows along that wall. 

A young lady today tossed her book on the shelf a bit too carelessly and out of nowhere a large window screen fell across the back of the small bookshelf there. She jumped back and began apologizing, certain she was in trouble. 

She wasn’t. She hadn’t flung her book from across the room or anything. But what really confused me - and eventually the rest of the class - is that there are no screens on the insides of my windows. They don’t open, even a little. Not that it would matter - there are no screens on the outside either. 

So… where did it come from?

We kinda joked about it as a class for a moment - something it doesn’t seem we have much chance to do these days. At one point I suggested perhaps it had come from another dimension, like the squids that rain down from the sky periodically in Watchmen (an obscure reference for my kids, I know, but in my defense, none of this was planned). 

One of my students suggested perhaps demons had sent the screen to us as a warning, which struck me as an amusing - if bizarre - concept. Before I had time to consider that option, another kid spoke up:

“My granddaddy’s a preacher and he says that people who go to Hell will spend eternity surrounded by the screens of the damned.” 

*pause*

I laughed. Beyond that, I honestly had no idea where to go from there. The entire exchange was so far removed from what I’ve come to expect in this particular setting that I was genuinely at a loss. Fortunately, we were close enough to the end of class that we could simply let the moment ride until the bell brought us back to our new normal. 

I never did figure out where the screen came from. For the record, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t demons.

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