Thursday, July 20, 2006

The First Worst Day

Until now it's been pretty breezy at PS 371, teaching emotionally disturbed high schoolers. They have such character, and they tend to behave if you act reasonable. However, I had my first worst day. It made me sick to my stomach on adrenaline and fear, made me feel useless and unproductive.

Yesterday was the kind of day that shakes one to their foundations and makes them ask the question: Do I really want to imprison myself in a classroom with a dozen monsters who lather at the mouse and would chew their own leg off to get at you with a switchblade? Student teaching was a complete bust: nothing got read or learned, behavior was off-the-charts awful, and I had my first student-teacher confrontation that chilled me to the bone.

Students were sleeping, most just with their heads on their desk; but one of my students, Sha-Sha, decided to brazenly steal someone's shirt from the closet and use it as a pillow as he sprawled out laying on top of three desks. I was working without a "real" teacher in the room, only an intern younger than even my 23 years. And I had only an eyelash worth of authority with the kids.

"Sha-Sha, please get up and read from page 128." I asked, my voice loud in my own ears. No reply, feigned sleep.

"Sha-Sha! Get up." I was standing over him at this point, I saw the curl of a smile on the student's lips.

I yanked the makeshift pillow out from underneath Sha-Sha's head, and he was up like a shot.

"What you do, miss? You ain't no real teacher. You leavin' for class. Ain't it time for you to leave?" he then moved over to lie across 4 chairs, arm slung impudently over his face. The intern, Miss Tisha did nothing.

I read aloud from the book we were studying Bang, by Sharon Flake, an inner-city shoot-up coming of age story that the kids didn't find too dry. There were a lot of loud parts of the book, where I would shout BANG! And I made sure to be near the snoozing student whenever I had to be loud. The other students laughed when Sha-Sha jumped. And Sha-Sha most certainly didn't appreciate it.

He came at me, advancing slowly and with menace. I made eye contact.

"What you lookin' at?" Ack! No! Confrontation! I can't win this, I'm going to get shot like in Dangerous Minds, my ma was right!

Without stammering I told him to sit down. He did. On a desk. But I didn't trust myself to go any further with the student, knowing he was looking for a way to get into trouble.
When I had to leave the class for the day to head to my own classes Sha-Sha held the door. Like he owned the room. I attempted to turn it around and thanked him for being such a gentleman. My heart was in my throat. I could hear the rush of blood in my ears. I was so glad to get out of that class, away from the pressure. I can only hope I put on a better show than how I felt.

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