Sunday, March 22, 2015

DISCOURAGED by Debbie Smith

It's 1:30 pm, 9th period on a Friday in May when dismissal time is at 2:13 pm. My classroom is filled with adolescent angst and sweat from gym class the period before. Terence and Melvin always sit next to each other, even though I've separated them about thirty times so far. Terence is whispering something to Melvin and looking at me at the same time while Melvin tries desperately to hold in his laughter. Actually they're both looking at me, trying to gauge the exact moment that I will snap and send one of them out of the room so the class can at least finish the chapter of the book we are reading where we are at least twenty pages behind all the other classes simply because it's 1:30 pm on a hot Friday in May and dismissal is at 2:13 pm. They will both pull back right before my breaking point. They both know me better than my husband ever will. Neither of them wants to be kicked out, Terence because he plays on the school basketball team and can't afford any more disciplinary actions on his record.  Our principal, Mike, really DOES have it in for this kid because he's a small-time drug-dealer who probably won't graduate high school but who WILL probably graduate to be a big-time drug dealer, so right now, 8th grade, thirteen years old, king of the basketball court, right now is the absolute peak of success in Terence's existence and while he may not be the smartest kid in the room, even Terence is smart enough to know that fact.

Melvin doesn't want to be kicked out because he's secretly in love with Terence and Melvin is the only person in the room who is unaware of that fact. Also, Melvin hates feeling like he's missing out on anything. Plus they both really do like me for some reason, even though all I ever do for 42 minutes every 9th period is yell which, of course, does no good but I'm at a loss every day as to what else to do.

As I glare at them while Sasha is reading aloud from the book, Terence makes an attempt to move his seat a few inches farther away from Melvin as a peace offering to me. I've given the entire class a package of sticky notes because that's the latest educational trend we are enforcing this year. The students will mark the sticky note when they "connect" with the text in some way and stick it on the page so we can revisit the thought later as a class. I will just be glad to get the chapter finished.

As I gently correct, Sasha's oral reading, I notice that Terence's sticky notes are nowhere to be seen and his hands are conspicuously absent from view. I'm suspicious but my attention is distracted by Jackie, my favorite tiny Puerto Rican, who is throwing his copy of the book we are reading at the window. I interrupt Sasha.


"Sorry, Miss. There was a bee in the room."

All the girls scream simultaneously and try to run out of the room.

When I've finally quieted the bedlam, I notice Terence and Melvin's desks are right back where they were. I ignore them and ask Malaysia to continue reading. Only the girls volunteer to read aloud and it's May and I've given up on asking anyone else. Plus they read better and faster and now we are only ten pages behind. I'm still wondering exactly what Terence is up to since I still can't see his hands but since it's now 2:03, I'm praying it's nothing major.

We are interrupted a few more times with the office calling for students who have to leave early to make it to their track meet on time, announcements about baseball practice and numerous requests for bathroom passes. Finally, we are almost done, it's almost dismissal bell time and as we are finally on the last page, I realize what Terence has been doing this whole time. He throws about two million tiny pieces of sticky note paper over Melvin's head that he has been methodically ripping up under his desk for the last twenty-five minutes. Such attention to detail must be what makes him such a successful drug dealer.

But I can't hold back my own smile to see Melvin covered head to toe in neon pink sticky notes. They both stay behind after the bell to help me clean it up and we end our day once again.