As I picked up the folded piece of paper from the floor, the children were like sharks with blood in the water. Immediately, they were pleading for me to read the note. I didn’t know what it was nor did I really care. But the frenzy of student interest was more than what they had shown all week. As I opened the folded paper, I could hear the hungry mob gnashing their teeth like a scene from “The Walking Dead.” Their taste for blood was unquenchable. I don’t know if it was the sense of curiosity that took me or that my students finally took an interest in something. It very well could have been a release of frustration with my 8th graders during my first year in the classroom. I took a second to look over what was written. It was a very passionate and extremely well written poem lamenting the missed chances of love and lust with a boy. It was five stanza’s of a passionate plea for another chance. It was personal, it was wrought with angst. Poetry like this is never purposely left behind nor has the intention of ever being heard….until I decided to read it out loud to my students. When I was finished, I knew I had @#$% up royally!
The first year for a teacher is all about survival. You are tossed into the deep end, trained by fire hose and expected to swim. The results are burn out, tears,
and stupid decisions. Most of the lessons that I have learned in education and stubbornly in my own life, have come from the school of hard knocks. For some reason, learning it the hard way, has been my own personal pedagogy. I would of understood this if I was 22 and wet behind the ears. But I was a thirty three year old man! I had more life experience than a lot of the people in my education classes. My classmates and professors considered me one of those people who would have never done what I just did. I could hear the words of my mentor, DR.I, “Don’t grab the rope.” Grabbing the rope, is a perfect metaphor for the stupid things teachers due to get themselves in trouble. Most of the time kids do this on purpose, but moments like the one I am talking about are born merely from stupidity. But I digress…
The sharks, soaked in metaphoric blood, were swimming around the room in laughter. It’s sad how at the age of 33, I was still trying to be popular in middle school. In the corner near my desk, sat one of my best students. Her hands were clenched around her face. Her body was uncontrollably shaking and the sounds of crying could be heard. Her and I had developed a rapport early on. Her mother told me that she thought the world of me! At open house, her mother was excited to meet the teacher that got her daughter excited about learning history. Turns out the poem was hers! I had just destroyed this young lady publicly. Not only did I throw her business out in the open for the public to see, but I betrayed her trust in me. Why? To make some kids laugh. After class, I attempted an apology and told her that she should continue writing. Rightfully so, it fell on deaf and devastated ears.
To say that her mother was displeased is the greatest understatement of all time. See the student’s mother worked at the state house as an educational attorney for an Indiana State Senator. I was called to the principle’s office the next morning. Mr. Huggies was a no nonsense man. He hired me under the caveat, “I don’t like surprises. Don’t ever $%#@ing surprise me.” When I walked into his office I could the feel the stare of death coming from Mom. Remember when you messed up as a kid and after your mother yelled at you, you could still feel her stare sinking into the back of you skull? It felt like that. Mr. Huggies began with, “Remember when I told you not to surprise me?” The rest of his one way discussion was very curt and very loud and not for the eyes of my readers.
I was pretty sure my career was over, my life on the other hand, was not quite as clear. The student’s mother shared her frustrations with me. She wanted me fired. But she loved that her daughter was excited about something for the first time. Most of that excitement she said, came from “the energy you bring to the classroom and how you make her feel like she is welcomed.” I have never so low in my life. I assured mom of how truly sorry I was for destroying her daughter’s confidence in me. I also made damn sure to her that something like that will never happen again. Mr. Huggies backed me on that statement highlighting how easily I could be replaced if it did.
Three periods later, I entered the classroom to 10 or 15 folded up pieces of paper on the floor and cocky smirks on kids faces. Now, they either thought it was funny or they were trying to get me fired. Either way, as I picked them up, I assured them that the next thing to hit the floor would be them. I explained how wrong I was in reading that note. I expressed that actions have consequences. I publicly apologized to the student I hurt. Not five minutes later, another folded up piece of paper was thrown on the floor. As I approached the student who threw it, I thought to myself, “I guess some people still have to learn everything the hard way…”
As always, thank you for reading Tales From The Red Pen. Until next week, I bid you…Adieu.