Monday, November 5, 2012

When Life Gives You the Shaft

“Mrs. Ryan! Mrs. Ryan!” the boy in the back of the cafeteria space bellowed during sixth period study hall.  I walked to where he was seated with little enthusiasm.  These are high school students, so why were they beckoning for me like brown-nosing tattle tale first graders? 

“What’s the problem Evan?” I asked, with my hands firmly planted on my hips and an expression that revealed I really didn’t give a shit.  I know how it sounds to say I didn’t care what the problem was.  However, once you’ve been in secondary education for some time, you can tell when there’s a real issue and when students are just being immature and irritating.  This was definitely a case of the latter.

The boy in the nearly thread bare black Hane’s tee shirt looked up at me with a strange little smirk on his face.  Clearly, he was more amused by the expectant reply than I was likely to be.  “Mrs. Ryan, Jake touched my nipple.”
Really? Really? Are you fucking kidding me?  This is the issue I was called over here for?  Did they think this would amuse me?  Did he consider it a serious violation of his body?  No, he did not, as both boys chuckled at this comment, but then looked quickly ashamed when they read the expression on my face.  I just stood there giving them a snarky look that spoke, without any oral expression necessary, “Why are you acting like fucking morons? Knock this shit off.” 

“Sorry, sorry,” both boys spoke in unison.  I walked away and continued to generate about the study hall space, ensuring students were on task and checking in with others to see if they needed any help.  Every student seemed to be relatively on task.  Yes, some of them were just doodling or checking their texts in between solving Algebra equations.  But, everyone was in their correct seats, no one was cursing, and everyone was awake.  Therefore, I went behind the desk to quickly check my e-mail as all was under control.

Then Evan was out of his seat, back on his feet, laughing hysterically, and kicking some object that I could not identify from my distance. I returned to his seat, but with a bit more rapidity this time.

“Evan.  What are you doing now?  You need to stay on task.   Study Hall is here so you can complete your homework.  Not jump and kick stuff around.  What was that?”

“It was just a pen,” he replied.  He then continued at an attempt to justify his jumping and kicking during a time when the students are expected to be studious, quiet, and on task.  “Well, Mark stole my pen Mrs. Ryan.  And then he hid it under his butt.  It was under his butt, so I was trying to pick it up with my feet instead of my hands because that’s gross.”

Again, I gave him a look that made any actual words unnecessary.  This look shut him up immediately, but the other boy seated at the table must not have read my face.  This is when Nick inserted, “Yeah, he used the pen like a dildo.”

I was silent again.  This time, however, it was not because my facial expressions spoke for me.  I was quiet because I didn’t know how to respond to this.  Me – the woman who has shit to say in almost every situation.  There was a few seconds of awkward silence.  I finally spoke to question, “Why in the world would you say such a thing?  And, to me?  I’m your teacher.  I’m an adult. What’s wrong with you?”

I didn’t wait for a response.  I don’t believe I was about to receive one either as the student who called a pen a dildo just sat creepily chuckling, his heavy shoulders bobbing up and down.  He continued to snicker as I walked slowly away.  The situation didn’t call for a detention or office referral.  It wasn’t one of those “teaching moments” that emerges and we must embrace.  It was just some dumb-ass shit to say because that is the way the mind of a teenage boy often works. 

When the sixth period bell rang a few minutes later, I was relieved to have a group of students that I genuinely hoped and believed would behave better as I have more upper classmen in my seventh period. 

I thought I was right.  Everything was going so much better.  The students were on task; they didn’t disturb me with ridiculous situations.  As I milled about the room, I saw students studying Economics, World Literature, and Calculus.  Calculators were out and pencils were busily inscribing notes and short answer responses to assigned texts. 
And then, with less than ten minutes left in the period, I heard “Hey!” and went to the table where one young teenage male was yelling at another and pulling his textbook swiftly out of the hands of the same student he addressed.  The textbook was properly covered in a grocery store bag and had “US History” written neatly in black Sharpie upon this paper covering.  The course identification had been the only writing on that book cover, until the moment that led to the yelling.  When I arrived at the scene of this incident, I was informed, “Mrs. Ryan, he just drew balls on my book cover.”

Indeed, there they were: a long cylindered shaft with two round circles above it.  I didn’t overreact and respond with anger.  Instead, I said nothing at first.  I simply picked up a pen, added two circles inside the “balls,” filling them in completely with ink, and then added an upturned smile below the sketch of a shaft.  “There,” I said. 

“Oh, now it’s just a guy with a really long nose smiling at me,” said the student whose textbook had been crudely victimized. “Okay, thanks.  It kind of looks like a cartoon.  I’m going to draw some hair on him.”

Good. You do that, now, you go ahead and do that.  The lesson here: When life gives you the shaft, turn it into a smiling face. Also, teenagers are just fucking weird sometimes, and you have to listen to McCartney and Lennon and just “let it be.”

Author's Note: All student names have been changed to protect individual rights.


  1. Hahahaha! Oh my god. This is priceless.

  2. I love your language with the teens. Do you plan to go back and sub again?

    1. Ideally, a full time teaching job presents itself so that I have my own classroom again. However, my husband and I decided I would probably sign up to sub in the new year. Right now, I like having the time with the kids. The youngest will be four months tomorrow. I might stay PT this whole school year to focus on being a mommy. We shall see where life takes us. If we can get by financially, I enjoy being with my children.

  3. Just to be very clear too: I didn't actually call the kids "fucking morons" or say "knock that shit off." I just gave them a look that made it fairly clear what I was thinking. I have developed a strong "death eye" in my years of teaching.

  4. I swear I just had flashbacks to my high-school teaching days, when I was fresh out of college and, as one student said, raising his hand lazily from the back row, "I party with people older than you." Imagine that with a serious Massachusetts accent: "I paaahhhhty wit peeepl oldaaaah than you."
    ugh. good for you for not losing your shit and whacking these asshats over the heads with whatever is closest to hand.
    teen-agers pretty universally suck.

  5. Hahaha! Too funny. I used to teach high school (now elementary, more jobs) and I swear, those Grade 9 boys - 9th grade, I mean, or freshman - could NOT STOP DRAWING PENISES on stuff. OMG, so annoying. They weren't all bad, though - I had a some really good moments with those kids too.

    1. I love the kids too --- so funny you know just what I mean.