Coming of Age American High School

2:17 P.M. The clock was ticking off the wall waiting for one of my students’ parents to come rumbling through the door. It’s a shame how awfully easy it is to tick people off nowadays, isn’t it? I jokingly say that Hell hath no fury like a parent that’s never heard the word ‘accountability,’ but the sad part of that joke is that it’s not as much of a joke as it is a way of dealing with the way things are nowadays. 20 years I’ve been in this profession, and never have parents been as disrespectful as they’ve been the past few years. Warning: old-lady rant incoming. 

Back when I was a parent and my kids were in school, I let the teachers do their job no questions asked, because I knew the importance of discipline. When I was a kid, there was a song that went “teachers, keep on teaching,” and I think I speak for every teacher in America when people need to let people do their jobs. Instead, parents would rather let their children be raised by technology, and then get angry when teachers give them the discipline they’re clearly lacking at home. It’s funny that people think teachers are going to be replaced by robots in a couple of years, but frankly, I think they’ve already gotten to the parents. As the kids say, ‘go to a restaurant without a toddler staring at an iPhone challenge’ (impossible). Call me out of touch, but I firmly believe that technology has ruined a generation. 

Ugh. I needed something to take my mind off the nonsense. Despite what it might seem like, I don’t enjoy being a negative person. It’s just… I’m so tired. Maybe I should join our secretary Elise in the corner with her stack of her papers. It might be boring, but at least it’s nice and quiet. If absolutely nothing else, it was better than trying to lasso a bull in a china shop.

“Hey Elise, do you think you can take the 2:45 today?” I asked.

“Umm… I’m kinda busy. The best I can do is reschedule.”

“Nah, they’re not going to accept that. That’ll probably just make them angrier. I’d rather rip the bandaid off and get it over with than build up the anger. Besides, you know these parent types–” 

“I’ve ran into them once or twice.”

“And the parent I’m talking to today, I think I know where her kid gets his temper from. We’ve only really met each other through PTA meeting, but believe me, that was enough interaction for one lifetime. She was screaming at the aids, she was pushing the other parents. Ugh, I can only imagine what she’s going to be like when she comes in with malicious intent.”

To think all of this happened because I gave someone a bad grade on a two-point quiz. I’d be the first to tell you that teachers handing out disciplinary notices like candy is not the way to get their message across. It devalues the idea that punishment has a lesson therewithin and is simply a means of teachers throwing their weight around. See, for example, Miss Briggs from iCarly. Whoever’s read Dante’s Divine Comedy, however, knows that the punishment delivered to souls is meant to match their crime in life. So, when I ask students to keep their phones away during class, I could theoretically implement one of those cellphone holders, or I could get creative and match the punishment to the crime (aka a contrapasso).

I’ve been doing this long enough that I can turn a failure into a lesson. Teachers in the English department tell their students to do close readings of classic European texts, I tell my students to take time to think about why they’re being reprimanded. In some cases, it’s obvious (trying to send me to the hospital over a bad quiz grade). Other times, apparently it wasn’t so obvious, like when I asked them not to take their phones out in class. I should have known that this was asking kids in the 2020s to complete a Herculean task, but we were working on proofs, and I needed their undivided attention. I tried asking them nicely in the past to no effect, so against my wishes, I had to take drastic measures: pop quizzes (dramatic music).

It was supposed to be a ‘gotcha’ quiz, but it was only worth two points, so they could rebound for easy points if need be. There was some resistance, but that was to be expected. After the first couple of failed attempts, they finally got the hang of it. The phones went away, heads started popping up, and grades started improving (as much as a two-point test possibly could). Some however, just didn’t get it no matter how many notes were put in front of them, and naturally that would make them a bit upset.

“Miss Valery, I think I want to be a teacher when I grow up, because I wanna get money for teaching {stuff} all day!” my student said, with slight paraphrasing on my part. Also, for the sake of preserving his identity, I’ll simply call him Newton. I know Newton is technically science and not math, but what is the latter if not the language of the former?

“Hello, Newton. Is there any way I can help you?”

“Yeah, you can get this {crap} out of my face!” he said as he threw his quiz at me, not accounting for the weight and flutteryness of the paper in his rage. Despite how calm I remained, I knew he was in a bad mood the moment he said my name. His breathing was exasperated and shaky, and despite how disrespectfully he spoke to me, I never raised my voice. If anything, I saw a student in pain and wanted to help.

“Do you need to step outside for a moment so we can speak?”

“[Frick] yeah, let’s step outside.” I didn’t catch this and had to have someone explain it to me, but when we said ‘step outside,’ we meant two completely different things. I meant to have a talk, he meant to fight, because as we all know, violence solves all our problems and doesn’t create new ones (in case there’s any confusion, this was sarcasm). If one of his friends didn’t step in between us and talk him down, I might be laying out cold in the infirmary right now. 

Newton, feeling some right of his had been infringed upon, refused both to take the quiz and refused to accept the consequences of doing so, so he resorted to violence, aka the calling card for people that have no real argument. If he wanted to speak in private, I would have been more than willing, but I’ll turn in my highly tenured job before I tolerate physical intimidation. Thankfully, he had friends that were in better mind than him who were able to save him from making a huge mistake.

To their credit, most students were at least tolerant when I asked them to keep their phones away. It’s more likely than not that they just pulled them out anyways when my back was turned, but even with all my years of teaching, I had yet to figure out how to turn into a panopticon. Then again, it’d take more than physical sight to predict a student putting you on Fight Haven.

Naturally, there would be some degree of consequences attached to this attack, right? Surely Newton would see some sort of consequences and not be rewarded for his actions, sending a bad message that he could do whatever he pleased with no recoil, right? Not if his mom had anything to say about it, and between you and me, I think I see where he got his temper from.

“If this {female dog} thinks she can make {excrement} up about my son, she’s got another {freaking} thing coming!” her angelic voice sang through the brick structures of Springfield High School. 

She seems lovely, I said to myself. Burying my true feelings in a smile was something I had gotten good at over 20 years as a teacher. 

For better or worse, I was not her first victim. She screamed the sense out of poor Mr. Gransby who worked the front desk, the last line of defense between me and this Maenad made manifest.

“Where is she? Where’s that forked-tongued {see-you-next-Tuesday}?!”

When we locked eyes, it was like a lioness licking her lips at a grazing gazelle. How appropriate that a tiger’s tongue is coarse enough to cut through flesh down to bone. Normally when people are confronted with grizzly bears, the best course of action is to lie dead, as I had done tens of times before. Let her get her anger out, let her son be saved from a moment’s hardship that would refine him as a human being so she could grandstand against someone who is systematically forbidden from fighting back. What a trooper.

“You listen and you listen good,” she started as though I had a choice, “you are not my son’s keeper. I don’t know what ego trip you or this school are on where you think you can make up lies about my son, but I’ll be {fricked} if I’m going to sit here and let it happen! You don’t have a {fudging} ounce of control over me, so I can say whatever the {heck} I want! He can’t stand up for himself against you, so your {BS} lies don’t even make sense! Maybe in the 20 years you’ve been a teacher, you should have spent more time working on your half-truths!” 

The entire encounter was just pathetic. Every word out of her mouth proved how little she knew about what had happened, and quite frankly, I couldn’t feel bad for her son who in the end was the one who suffered the most. I was going to honor her request, though. I wasn’t going to say a word to him until the next PTA/Emergency Grade meeting, where she blames me for why her son is on the brink of failing, or worse. As a child, I was taught I need to adapt to my environment whether I liked what was going on around me or not. If anything, Newton was lucky he had a shoulder to cry on, but if he wanted to help me help him, he would have to be willing to sit down and go over what he doesn’t know, and like anything else, that starts at home.

April 29, 2023 01:33

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