A long time ago in an Indiana town far, far away…
Throughout my career I have only made three kids cry. Two of them I’m proud of. I know, I know how heartless does one have to be to brag about making a kid cry? Well one of those kids stood about 6’5″. The other is now serving 5-10 for attempted armed robbery with a pink handled pistol. Why pink you wonder? Because…SWAG! Other than being made to cry by me they had one other thing in common….they were JACK WAGONS! The first kid I forced to tears did not deserve it at all, thus the subject of this post.
My first teaching job was in a very wealthy community north of Indianapolis. It was an amazing middle school. Every Tuesday, the PTA would bring sweets and fresh fruit for the teachers. Before Christmas break, one of my students brought me a pair of Harmon-Kardon computer speakers for my gift. When I would ask the students what they did for summer vacation they all had some story about going to the south of France, hiking the Swiss Alps or surfing off the coast of Australia. The biggest issue on that campus….gum chewing! Seriously.
I had a student… I will call her Vader. Why? Vader had a hairstyle that clearly resembled Darth Vader’s helmet. She was tall, skinny, awkward, with enormous “man” hands. Kids would start whistling or humming the Imperial March when she walked down the hallway. They made fun of Vader a lot. They called her “man hands,” and “Sasquatch.” The kids threw things in her hair, and scoffed at her every time she said something in class. I over heard a few of them laughing at her body because they had to dress next to her in P.E. It never mattered how much you corrected the students about their behavior, it was relentless. They made school a living nightmare for Vader.
During back to school night her mother stood out among the crowded array of wealthy, white, bitter, Nieman-Marcus shopping, alcoholic, privileged, housewives. Not only did they both have the Vader Helmet hair-do, they wore the same outfits. She was one of those moms! Extremely over bearing and relentless, mom Vader tore into me something fierce. Think about that scene in Star Wars, where Vader is choking that dude for his lack of faith….yeah, it felt like that.. She was angry because her daughter needed to be in the 100th percentile! No matter how hard you tried to explain the mathematical impossibility of this event it would be my fault, and my teaching was the cause of this calamity.
Then came state mandated testing. I don’t recollect what the name of the test is in Indiana. I-STEP, I-SUCK, I-GAG…whatever. Now, I know you all have heard about how stressful these tests are for children. Multiply that by 1oo for teachers. Before every test we would have to attend mandatory test training. Basically we are shown a guillotine, a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, and threatened with our job after every other slide if anything goes wrong!
While actively monitoring the test I noticed that Lord Vader had gotten confused. Instead of bubbling in her answers on the scan-tron like they have done since 3rd grade, she decided to circle and write the answers in her workbook. This would be considered a testing violation! Remember this was my first year teaching. I could see the blade sliding down the guillotine. I felt the burning sensation of rope tightening around my neck and could hear cocking of the rifles!
I exploded on Vader quietly of course, so as not to disturb the testing environment! “How can you be that careless?!” “What were you thinking!?” “You have done this test how many times and you forgot you are not allowed to write in your book!? Then I said it, “This is why people treat you the way they do!” The tears formed in her eyes and then burst out of her like a spirit being exorcised. She bellowed in long supple groans of agony and the tears flowed so much that it created rivers of pain on her desk. I had now done to her what so many of my former teachers did to me. Made me feel horrible for being nothing more than a kid.
I emailed mom what happened. Mom called me on her lunch break and much to my surprise she was rather calm. She expressed to me how upset she was but also she understood the pressure that school district puts us under. She then told me, that Vader was most upset because. “You are her absolute favorite teacher. You never treated her like all the others did but now you have.” She assured me that everything would be fine and that Vader would bounce back. She also instructed me to treat every child as if they were my own. It has always haunted me. I consider this an epic fail rather than a life lesson, because I became the very teachers I hated. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Since then, I have tried my best to live up to what Mom Vader told me. I recently heard from Lord Vader. She’s doing well and is finishing college with a degree in Psychology. She is the only student from my first classroom that has ever made an attempt to contact me. Maybe it wasn’t such an epic failure after all….
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