by Write Field
A teacher makes an unexpected discovery about a difficult student.
| She ripped the dust jacket off the book as she always did, annoying me to no end. Maria was a talented writer and a very bright girl, but she could be a menace in class. When she was on she was sweet and respectful and would participate in class by making literary and historical connections that most seventh graders were incapable of. One day, during a study of the Holocaust I told the class that “from this point forward, I will assign each of you a number, and will no longer use your names when I call on you.”
“You can’t do that Mr. Davis, you’re taking away our identities.”
“Very well, Maria. I will use your first names, but we shall all share my last name, Davis, as, of course, we want to create a sense of community here.”
“Hell no! I’m not answering to your lame-ass name. Our names are who we are. That’s why Malcolm changed his to X after they tried the same crap you’re pulling.”
“Excellent point, Maria. Watch your mouth.”
She also explained difficult material to her neighbors and asked good questions, but when she was in a foul mood she was confrontational, rude, and used language that would make me red in the face with embarrassment instead of rage if we were at a bar; in class, I just couldn’t stand it at all.
I could tell by her ragged shoes, tattered jeans, greasy hair and dirty fingernails that she didn’t bathe every day and had few clothing options to choose from. She rarely brought a lunch and never participated in any activities that required a fee, no matter how small. So it’s not like charging her or her family for a new book every time she ripped off a dust jacket would have done much good. Kicking her out of class would only deprive her of class time (and I’d have to catch her up later anyway), and she seemed to enjoy staying after school for detention, so consequences were limited for her petty crime. It’s not as if the dust jackets lasted long or provided much protection in the backpack of a 12-year old anyhow, it was just the principle that a child like that had so little respect for nice things that when she got a new book she immediately vandalized it.
She would be leaving soon anyway, as I had just put a prompt on the board for the students to respond to in their journals after reading the first two pages of THE OUTSIDERS. Each student had a spiral notebook that they brought to class at the beginning of the year and kept with them. At then end of the quarter they would be turned in and graded. Maria never brought one in. During journal time she would talk to other students or walk around the class and sharpen her pencil for an obnoxiously long time. If I let this go her disruptions would build until I called her out and then she would lose it. Suspecting that she could not afford a spiral notebook, I offered to give her one during the first week of the year. “What’s this crap?” she snarled when I placed it on her desk.
“It looks like you forgot your notebook, so I thought you could write in this one today.”
“Forget you, man! You think I want to write in your stupid little purple notebook. I’ve got my own in my bag. I’m just not doing your gay assignment.”
“Maria, we’ve talked about that language and how it’s unacceptable for class. I need you to go down to the office and come back to talk to me before lunch.”
“Yeah right. I’m not coming back here ever.”
And so the daily battle during journal time had begun. We were able to reach a compromise where she would sit quietly at her desk, or leave the room as to not disrupt the other students, but she never did bring a journal or agree to write in one that I gave her. At first I worried about where she went, but when I followed up she had always gone to the main office or to see her counselor. After a while I just let her leave and come back when she was ready. That is, until one day she never returned. During lunch Howard, the security guard came by to pick up her bag, which she had left behind. Howard caught her smoking a cigarette in the bathroom, and the dean wanted to search her bag before deciding how long to suspend her for. They didn’t find any contraband, but when Howard came back he gave me a stack of dust jackets, stapled together into a makeshift journal. On the blank insides, each of the assignments for the quarter were written. At the top of the first page was a short note and the beginning of a poem.
Dear Mr. Davis,
It’s not your fault that I don’t have a journal. I wanted to bring one, but I messed up and asked my dad for the money when he was drunk. He started yelling at me about being his “uppity-little-schoolgirl” who always needed money but never did any work to bring anything home. Then he called me some mean names and slapped me. Every day when we write in our journals I think about my dad and it’s a long time before I’m calm enough to write.
What you see is a lie
I lie because I’m not ready to let you in
You can handle my rage and disrespect
Because you can accept me like I cannot.
When I break you down and you throw me out
I feel better because that’s how I deserve to be treated.