This week has offered me the challenge I knew I would have to face eventually, but illogically thought “Nah, it won’t happen to me!” Currently I’m dealing with a student who has chosen me as a specific challenge, and is enjoying her attempts to terrorize me. Allow me to show you my week:
First off, I never recommend putting yourself in the presence of feisty youngsters if you haven't had more than four hours of sleep.
Sha-sha, who I have mentioned earlier to be a thorn in my foot, is now officially announced herself as my enemy. At least she thinks so. That's right, she. You see, I made a mistake by assuming that she looked like a boy, acted like a boy, spoke like a boy, dressed like a boy, and was treated by the boys like a boy…that she was in fact a boy. Ah, how confused teenagers are these days as they journey forth in search of identity.
Monday started with Sha-sha, a.k.a. Raquel walking and laying over both my desk and the neighboring desk lined up next to mine. I made non verbal eye contact: "Yo, miss, why you up in my grill?"
Ah! Confrontation! They taught us about that in class. Ok, you're a teacher, I thought to myself, show no fear! "You're on my desk. Right in front of me. Of course I'm going to look at you." I tried to keep my breathing eve, tried to keep the blood from flowing to my face. I was well aware as the adrenalin pulsed through my veins…I was being directly confronted and how I handled this now would direct my interaction with the student until I left.
“Shit, you a cracker, snow white.” Sha-sha said before slapping at the hem of my dress shirt. She rolled over and feigned sleep.
“Sha-sha, open your book and read aloud from page 136” I said, keeping my voice stern. I didn’t watch her, rather I looked down at my book.
“Fuck you Miss C.” She said, loud enough that another teacher overheard and chastised her. Sha-sha sucked at her teeth and turned to me. “Fuck you.” She said, more quietly.
I let it slide. What could I say that wouldn’t escalate the situation? I let her lie over the desks, sprawled like a cat because she was reading. I pick my battles.
Minutes later when the cooperating teacher asked for an “N” work that represented community (we were doing an acronym project) I offered neighbor.
“”NIGGER! Miss C said Nigger! Cracker bitch! Ms. B…she’s rascist! Oh! Oh! Whyyou call us niggers?!”
Okay. This I was not prepared for. I was ready for the slings and arrows thrown at me, and ready not to take them personally. But I did not expect to have words put in my mouth, and especially not when they accused me of being prejudiced. I was shocked, which was Sha-sha’s intent, I’m sure. That half second that took me to respond really cost me. I floundered out: “I most certainly did not say that. I mind my language.” My emphasis on certainly covered my reeling emotions from the situation. I could feel my face growing hot and red.
Ms. R, the cooperating teacher backed me up, “Sha-sha you sit down in that chair and leave Ms. C alone, of my the blood of Jesus…” I recovered my compsure, but shared many meaningful glances with Sha-sha from across the room. And by meaningful I mean menacing. It was fifteen minutes later when I caught Sha-sha going though my bag while I was helping another student with reading comprehension. She was elbow deep and pulling out my purse. Mind you, it’s my own fault…I should have left my bag locked up somewhere…but I was tired and stupidly trusting. Well, it’s a lesson learned well. But I was aghast that she’d be so blatant about the situation.
I debriefed later in privacy with Ms. R, who for the record can’t stand Sha-sha and would have her expelled by this point if she could. I was told I handled it well, mentally I added the unsaid, for a white girl. That was the issue…I was the only white person in the class, students and teachers included. And while I wasn’t going to let it be a problem, and the students didn’t seem to mind it was a big, hairy deal for Sha-sha who wanted to fight me as
1. An authority figure.
2. A white person.
3. A younger person without the dignity and respect wrinkles bring.
4. Another woman.
The fact that race had become such an issue flabbergasted me, I wasn’t ready to defend myself in that way, but I wasn’t about to let one student spoil my whole teaching experience.
The interns from United Way who have been running the Freedom School in the classroom decided that in order to instill a stronger sense of community in the class they would completely trash the room. Desks and chairs flipped over, papers, forks, minutia strewn everywhere…It was a good job done doing a bad thing, so I thought. The interns, Ms. B and Ms. T played dumb about the whole thing while asking sneaky questions about how the room made the students feel, and what they planned to do about it.
“Go bust a cap in someone’s ass!” a student replied.
Sha-sha had no desk to lay one, so paced the messy room like a caged lion. And then she really got up in my face. “Make the white bitch clean it up, she be our slave now! She’ll be a fucking maid, and shit.”
Ah, the race card. I was ready, having licked my wounds from the previous day. I calmly, and quickly replied: “I will not be held responsible for something that may, or may not have happened to you ancestors.” I was busy mentally high-fiving myself when Ms. B, the intern, took Sha-sha out in the hall for a “private consultation.”
Now, in PS 371 the doors all lock from the inside, so in order to get back in I had to open the door for them. This illicited the response from Sha-sha that “I was already her servent because I was getting the door.” I rolled my eyes like a teenager and left it at that. Ms. R, my cooperating teacher did not.
“Sha-sha, you better keep your mouth shut and sit down.” She gave Sha-sha her confrontation back 100%. It was showdown time, because I knew Sha-sha was not going to let the teacher have the last word.
“You fuckin’ fat gorilla, your fuckin’ ugly feet, fucking don’t tell me shit about what I gotta do (sound of teeth sucking)” etc.
“You don’t RESPECT yourself, you gotta go because you don’t LOVE yourself, Rocky. Blood of Jesus, girl!” (If I never mentioned it, Ms. R is a large, sassy black woman in her early thirties who is highly religious, very strong, and unafraid to voice her opinions. She’s a beloved stereotype, and I’d never be where I am without her knowledge and strength.)
It was at this point Sha-sha, a.k.a. Raquel, a.k.a. Rocky, a.k.a. Bang Boy got sent out for the day. I breathed a sigh of relief. Today, in some small way, I had won.
Today I realized it’s all a game, all of it. The fronting, the threats, the cursing, the behavior. It’s a testing of boundaries. I walked into the class, and said good morning to Sha-sha, as is my wont. She smiled.
After I settled, I watched her from the corner of her eye approach me. I readied myself for the onslaught. “Miss C! Miss C, today I ain’t gonna bother you. Today is Miss T’s turn.” I didn’t think about turns, I didn’t think about the idea that someone else had to deal with the crap today, I didn’t allow myself to sigh in relief..I had to take control of the moment.
“Free at last, free at last, Hallelujah, free at last!” I’m not sure if she got the refrence, but her eyes widened as I stood from my seat, raised my hands to the heavens and shouted with glee. I got her attention, at the very least. And, true to her word…she did not give me a single problem the entire session.