New names

By Joe Rector

It’s for sure that I’m too old to deal with high school students. Nothing could make me go back to work a five-day week teaching them; about all I can take is three days of substituting. By the end of the third day, I’m exhausted, and my patience has long been tried to the point of insanity.

Just the other day, my temper was tested. The class had begun, and things were going along well. Students had their assignments and were working. One boy moved, and when I asked where he was going, the class told me that they were allowed to work in pairs. I said “okay,” but added that the first bit of goofing off or the first time I saw a phone out that I would send the boy back to his original seat.

All worked well…for about fifteen minutes. Then I looked around the room to discover this same student had his head ducked and his eyes intently looking at something. Yes, he had his phone out. He also had the hood of his jacket up to conceal the ear buds he was wearing.

I quietly walked to his table and called his attention. He looked up and I instructed him to return to his original seat. That’s when he exploded. In answer to his question “why,” I reminded him of the conditions for his sitting with his friend.

Let’s just say the child didn’t take kindly to my moving him. He began to mumble under his breath, and when I asked him what he said, the boy mumbled louder a string of profanities. Jumbled in there some place was his announcing that I was a “punk-a** n****r.” In all my 60+ years, no one has ever used those words to describe me. To say an old white man with thinning gray hair was shocked is to understate the situation.

He next called me a term that I found curiously used since the term refers to a female dog. I did, however, understand the intent of the slur, looked at him, and answered, “but I’m not your “b…..” Then I instructed him to go to the office. To his credit, the boy did so and was sitting there when I called to check.

Within five minutes, a girl walked to the desk. She asked to leave class. When I asked what the reason was, she said she wanted to go let in a friend of hers who was locked outside the building. I sat stunned for a couple of seconds. Too many times this year we’d already heard of violence and carnage in public schools, and this girl wanted me to dismiss her to let someone in locked doors. The look on my face must have answered her question, but I told her there was no way a person can release a student so that she can open a locked door for anyone. I added that the person would need to get into the building the regular way…through the front door.

See why I no longer am able to work as a teacher?  During those earlier years, I’d have gone ballistic on the boy who cursed me. I would have personally escorted him to the office to make sure he arrived. No student would have opened a door for another individual because students didn’t leave during class time.

I’m a relic who just doesn’t fit. However, this subbing job has opened my eyes to the differences in public education, and I don’t much like them. Additionally, my job has given me the opportunity to be learn new names for myself. I suppose none of us is ever too old to learn.

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