Excuse Me Teacher, Can I Cuss You Out Now?

Bratz Dolls: getting girls
suspended since 2001.  
"There's no way in hell I'm staying after class, this is bull-$#!+."

Yeah, it was one of those days. A day when a request, a redirection, a small challenge, turned a volatile student into a hostile student.  Sadly, every teacher knows this scenario, knows this student, and it can destroy a day, a week, and forever taint the classroom environment.  I dread these days. Days like today.

It's just one of those days...(Oh God, I almost quoted Limp Bizkit lyrics)...actually, later in that song it says, "You don't really know why--but you want to justify--rippin' somebody's head off--no human contact--just one of those days." Yeah, maybe those lyrics still preach some truth to today's youth like they did to angsty bleach-haired boys near the millenium.

Seriously, these shouldn't be sold
to anyone under 18.  
Only this wasn't a boy. We'll call her Trista, and she had a lackey, whom we will call Katrina. Maybe you know the type. Not even 16, yet lugging a tote-purse with a Playboy bunny on it. Overpainted thin lips. Over-styled hair that wasn't popular in any era. A girl who is desperately trying to impress, but sadly has perforated her own possibilities with reputation and rumors.

Exactly the kind of borderline student that needs education. That's the irony. We, as a class, had just read an excerpt from Kaffir Boy; a story about a South African boy who only attends school after his mother hog ties him and drops him off at the schoolhouse. Eventually the main character realizes that  the only way to escape the horrors of poverty and violence is through education. I hoped it would make a connection. Obviously it didn't.

Poverty sucks.  I lived in "poverty" for a few years growing up.
But American poverty and third world poverty is incomparable.  

Some of these kids have built up so many walls to deal with the violence, instability, rejection, abuse, poverty, hate, insanity and chaos that fills their everyday life, that no matter what I do as a teacher, I will never get past their enemy label. I am the man. And you can't believe the man.

"Trista, what is going on?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you have purposefully challenged every single thing I've tried to do today. You talked over my presentation; you went to go get your textbook and came back with a bagel instead; you switched seats and sat in Katrina's lap in the last minutes and talked so loud I had to turn the video off. I'm done giving you leeway--hoping you will buy into my class. Tell me what you want out this class?"

"I don't want nothin'. School is stupid."(Ironically, words echoed, and later recanted, by the 8-year-old boy in Kaffir Boy).

"Well I want my other students to pass. If you want to give up, fine. I've tried to include you from day one, and you haven't shown any desire to do the work or participate in any classroom activities. Yet you are consistently distracting other kids, and it's affecting their grades. That's not fair to them, and I won't allow it to happen."

"Well, my truancy officer says all I have to do is attend school. I don't have to do the work, or care about what you're talking about, just show up."

"Well, I don't care what your truancy officer says. This is my classroom. If you're coming just to avoid a fine, I will find somewhere for you to go where you won't distract anyone else."

"It's not like I have any chance at passing. I have like a 18% in your class."

"Have you once asked me what you can do? I've seen you in the halls almost every other day, and ask if you want to come in and make up a test, if you want any missing assignments, if you want an alternative assignment. Trista, I've put in all the effort. I've been more than accommodating. And I've never once said that you can't pass my class. You don't know what I can do. I can give you partial credit. I can give you an incomplete. Heck, if you showed me some effort, even at this stage, and handed in five/six assignments, I might just give you a D, even if you aren't even at 45%. But you have to ask. I'm not going to do the work for you. That's not the way the world works." "So what's the plan."

"Well...(long pause) the work is too hard."

And then, because I knew this was just another excuse, an attempt to manipulate, because nothing else had worked, I called her bluff.

"Well, I can talk to the counselors and administration and see if we can get you tested. If there's some kind of learning disorder, or if you have gaps in education, we might be able to see those and accomodate you with different classes or..."

"Can I just leave? It's my lunch."

I fought off the urge to say, No, you had a bagel during my class, you shouldn't be hungry, and let her go. Some days you get tired of fight FOR kids who think you are fighting against them.

I sat at my desk and put my head in my hands and thought of lives like hers. A father who isn't there, or is so uncaring he lets his little girl go to school with a Playboy purse. A mom so uninvolved she never taught her daughter how to properly put on make-up, how to style her hair, how to buy clothes that fit properly. A life where no adult figure read make-believe stories at bedtime. A life where happiness isn't found at home, school, or with friends, but only in the grips of illicit drugs or petty physical relationships.

I then thought of how many Tristas I had taught in seven years. 300? 25 percent of all my students?  Too many to remember or count?  The thought was overwhelming.  Are schools and teachers failing these kids? Excuse me if I get a little pissy at that question. I, and millions like me, go to bat every day for these kids, even if they are consistently walking off the field before the game starts. What else can I physically do?

Sorry. It's just one of those days. (Can the fact that I quoted Limp Bizkit be our little secret, please?)


  1. Tell her Truancy Officer his/her job is a joke! Seriously, she just has to show up? What Is the point? So so rediculius. I'm frustrated for you. For all of us. We are going to have to live with these kids.

    1. Yes we will someday, but sadly, we are already living with their parents. And while even good parents can have a bad apple, a child completely out of control is usually the product of parents completely out of control.

      It's upsetting when a 16-year-old pulls these shenanigans, but pathetic when someone 28+ is still throwing fits when the world doesn't cater to their needs.

  2. I dont think teachers are failing these kids and you should not blame yourself. Society has failed these kids through the lack of setting the example of discipline, respect, and responsability. The parents take more of that blame but when they are not present it falls on society. Society is to blame for your inability to discipline these kids when they act out.

    1. I agree. For kids removed from their parents there should be a better system. Foster parents are sometimes great, but every child is different and difficult to match to a potential Foster home.

      But larger society: cell phones, television, movies, music, clothing, materialism/not to mention drinking, drugs, etc. ...all this stuff really corrupts kids.

  3. I LOVE that you quoted Limp Bizkit!! Takes me back, and I was totally rap singing the rest of the lyrics in my head. Anyway, days like this, and students like Trista are so incredibly frustrating. At least you know that you are trying your best.

    1. Yeah, I never really took to the rap/rock thing. Bizkit's guitarist scared me away before I could ever be a fan. He showed up on the cover of my Guitar magazine and creeped me out.

  4. I don't know how you do it bud. Everyday you fight for the future of kids that fight you to do it. I would have said screw it a long time ago.

    As for Limp Bizkit, were they the early 2000 version of Nickleback? I think they might be.

    1. I heard somewhere that Nickelback has sold almost 30 million CDs. I'd sell out for 5 million in sales of anything. I'd even rap/rock my blog, like Limp Bizkit, for 5 million hits (which essentially would still pay me nothing).

  5. These are the kids who need us the most but are the least able to say why. Their ignorance is exacerbated by more ignorance. God bless these children.

    1. They do. And I'll be there to support her tomorrow, and she'll probably do the same thing...but maybe, maybe somewhere down the road, she'll appreciate it, and make the right decision for once.

      That's what we have to hope for, right?

  6. Oh my. Sigh. I feel your frustration. Even when I tutored underprivileged kids years behind their grade level in reading, at least their parents cared. That poor girl. She is setting herself up for failure and doesn't realize the implications. Thank God for teachers like you, who push through the impatience and see the larger picture, even if it may seem ineffectual. Good luck!!