No Smorking on the Subway
Anyway, I’m back and with a fabulous story of my wonderful kids.
It was the end of a pretty average day, I was tired and a little hoarse from shouting…but generally no worse for wear. I was leaving the school and hopping onto an uptown train when I saw a pack of female students from my school a little farther down the car. I knew better than to initiate contact with the kids while outside school grounds, knowing that:
A. I’m not cool at all.
B. I have little authority in the classroom, and absolutely none in public.
C. Even I would have been a little weirded out being hailed by a teacher outside of the high school environment. (Think of that scene from Mean Girls where Tina Fey bumps into her students at the mall.)
So while my antennas were out and I knew the girls were there, I played my cards close to my chest and sat distant from them. (See diagram below)
Now, most of the girls in my school smoke; in the hallways, in the bathrooms, in the stairwell…they’re pretty blatant about it, and on the train several of them had cigarettes out. There was a very stodgy old woman sitting across from me on the train casting disgusted looks over at the students while they laughed and caroused raucously.
“Don’t you dare light that cigarette!” she shouted at the girls in a stern voice.
Oh, brother! I thought. I was seriously feeling pretty defensive towards my kids, of course they know better than to smoke in the subway. Maybe I have been working with minority students too long, but I can get real uppity when I sense irritating injustice…would the lady have spoken up if it were just some white kids instead? Mentally, I rolled my eyes at the elderly woman but said nothing. At least I did until one of the students acknowledged my presence with a hearty hale “Sup, Ms. C?!”
Of course the old lady equated me as their teacher and made a bee-line for the empty seat next to mine.
“Do you TEACH these kids?” she demanded, looking me up and down. I nodded and said yes, not seeing any way out of the conversation.
“HOW?” she snuffed emphatically. And let me add, indignant facial frowns add wrinkles.
How could I respond to this question? I felt loyalty towards these students, hell-bent as they may be. “With patience, understanding and sometimes with prayers,” I told the older woman, hoping that my Yoda-esque response would sate her and make her go away. I just wanted to go home.
“God bless you!” she said to me. Sadly, after that I couldn’t hold onto my moral outrage any longer and explained how the children can’t have all the blame…that the environment and bad/no parenting all mix and create the problem behaviors. I then confidently told her that the girls were good kids at heart, and conspiratorially told the old bag that the kids wouldn’t really start smoking on the train.
So of course, because of my pride, I’m wrong and the girls light up. And not just one or two, but FIVE cigarettes are being passed around. As the subway car grew dusky with the smoke I sighed, working up the resolve to live up the term TEACHER and admonish their behavior. (I felt like such an idiot, and if the lady wasn’t there to judge me, or if I hadn’t come off as the Holy, Helpful teacher I probably would have just changed cars.)
“Guys, that’s really not a good idea. Someone’s gonna end up calling the cops. You guys can’t wait to smoke until you get outside?” I tried calmly appealing to their common sense, meanwhile I’m thinking: Oh god, I’m such a loser…these girls aren’t going to listen to me, I’m going to look impotent and lame. Great.
And the girls laugh, like I knew they would. Though, they didn’t specifically blow smoke in my face like I assumed they would. I ended up hailing a cop upon my exit, partially because the smoke was stinging my eyes and partially out of frustration for my inability to do anything.
Moral of story: If you’re caught practically bragging about being a teacher in poor, urban areas…prepare to back it up with actions, even if it ends up with you looking like a fool.
Labels: smoking on the subway