The administration decided to host an assembly for seniors in an effort to inform them of important policies and requirements for graduation and other "fun" senior events, ranging from BBQs to prom to the graduation ceremony itself. Teachers were asked to escort their classes to our “state of the art” auditorium to ensure order, well, theoretically at least. I scanned the room and saw about six hundred students, five teachers, and two or three administrators. Oh yeah, I knew this would be bad. Knowing my inability to cope with the boorish behavior of masses of students empowered by their anonymity, I dug into my seat, kept my nose in the papers I brought to grade, and the corner of my eye on my well-behaved class.
No matter who stood up to speak to the assembly, the din never stopped. The man from Jostens, or whichever cap, gown, and ring company he represented, tried to impart information the kids would need should they make it to the finish line, but only a few listened to him. The poor man had to say, “Listen up, people” as punctuation for almost every phrase he uttered. Remarkably, he never lost his patience. Then the phelgmatic student-body president mumbled a request for the students to purchase senior sweatshirts that they loudly considered too pricey, and an Assistant Principal spoke about what many considered the unreasonable senior attendance policy (7 absences max? Really, that’s unreasonable?). Soon the din became an uproar. I continued to mark comma splices and agreement problems and read and reread the sentences before me in an effort to tune out the noise. The last thing I wanted to do was confront misbehaving students whom I do not know by name.
Finally, after questions no one heard and after an administrator was brushed off and left the stage for lack of stamina; after hoots, hollers, and whistles every time some well-meaning adult called them the Class of 2010; after rude call-outs and continuous inattention to the front of the room, the nightmare ended. Inches from a clean getaway, I rose to lead my students out of the auditorium.
Then I saw them. Two girls in the seats right behind my class were sucking on fried chicken wings, fingers covered in grease. I was nothing short of aghast. Now, I have been known to hunker down over a little KFC myself, much to the dismay of my politically and dietarily savvy friends, but here in this sacrosanct auditorium designed for the top notch performers who attend this school, food is an absolute no-no. So I thought about it for a few seconds: do I say something and face inevitable resistance and hostility or do I just ignore this egregious defiance in front of all the students who know I have seen this display and count on me, as one of the adults in this barely controlled chaos, to maintain some form of order?
“Are you REALLY eating in here? You have to put that away!” I registered my protest and insisted they modify their behavior. Very teacherly, but I knew I was in for it.
Blank stares. Lips wrapped around wings.
“Put the chicken away!” I remained firm.
“Where?” Finger licks, bone gnawing.
“Wherever your got it from!”
“Take out whatever the chicken came in and put it away. NOW!”
“Put it in what? What are you talking about?”
The conversation was so unprofitable, so impossible that I was getting angry at myself for starting it, for wasting my time, for feeling bad that I didn’t have a piece of chicken myself. But I am the adult here, or so they tell me. So why do I feel that sick feeling I always get when I know what the right behavior is and am made to feel the fool when I try to enforce it.
I turned away from the offenders, cursed heartily under my breath, and stated that I was tired of the pigs at this school. One of the girls, who knew me, though I did not know her, says, “DID YOU JUST CALL ME A PIG?!” Righteous indignation, of all the deflecting nerve!
Before I could say, Original Recipe, all the anger I had worked so hard to quell for that hour and a half of patent, room-wide disrespect rose up in me, and I just let it fly: “I said members of this student body act like a bunch of goddammed, disgusting pigs, and if you think you fit that description, then YES, I guess I called YOU a pig! Your behavior is a disgrace, an intolerable disgrace, and I am just sick to death of it!” I turned on my heel and stormed out of the room, muttering to myself like the crazy person I suddenly felt like.
The question all this raises in me is why anyone would expect any adult to be at the mercy of disrespectful teenagers, who rarely face real consequences for their actions, and NOT get angry. One of my colleagues was recently called a bitch by one of her students, a curse to which she responded in equally colloquial and insulting language, and she was not only called out for her behavior by the administration, but she was told that a student’s calling a teacher a bitch is not an offense worthy of suspension. Really? Now if the same kid had called one of the administrators “Asshole” or dare I say something worse, would that have been an offense worthy of suspension? I also wonder whether it is just a coincidence that when I cannot get the team of boys who play a wild football game in front of my bungalow classroom (where they are forbidden to play) that this teacher, the one called BITCH, is the ONLY one who can get the kids to stop. Fire with fire, I say, unless of course, we suddenly turn this terrible tide and make civil student behavior priority one. Not likely, I fear.
Well, all this contemplation is making me hungry. I think I'll go out and get a little of the finger-licking good stuff and be done with it.