Over the years I have had my share of classroom catastrophes--a boy once threw a stapler at me because he did not like his grade; another tossed a chair because I would not tolerate some behavior that I now cannot remember. Yet another boy came to my summer-school classroom door, one hand on his hip the other arm high, his hand gripping the door frame, body atilt. He greeted me with sleepy eyes and a sly grin and proceeded to slide down the door frame to the floor, passed out in a druggy heap. Another boy suffered from such intense hypo? hyper? or some other sort of glycemia that his head would suddenly drop down onto the desk and. . . . lights out. The first time this happened, I myself nearly passed out, but the kids knew exactly what to do and mobilized instantly--one to the cafeteria for orange juice, the other to the restroom for a cool paper towel.
But there are other kinds of classroom catastrophes that usually require the application of some sort of mysterious, institutional red sawdust. Though the girls usually know to run from the room should illness suddenly hit them, the boys seem to be less adept at that kind of multitasking. They tend to be paralyzed by their distress, unable to move. One boy, after a breakfast of orange juice and pineapple slices (hmm, was the battery acid canister empty that morning?) suddenly flew to the front of the room, paused, feet planted, and threw up a stew of orange doused pineapple chunks right next to my desk. The rest of the kids, disgusted and on the verge of losing it themselves, squeezed into a corner of the room as if the mess were going to coagulate into some sort of man-eating blob. Once another boy, who had eaten only chocolate the entire day, also decided to root himself to my desk, bend slightly forward, and dribble saliva while tepidly claiming he was going to be sick. I got that trash can under his face not a moment too soon to receive the chocolate stream that emanated from his nose and mouth. And I used to like chocolate! (Ah, who am I kidding, I still like it! Takes more than that to frighten me away).
Several years ago, I had a student who suffered from many learning challenges but was mainstreamed anyway (no pun intended, or maybe there is, you decide). I was teaching a 10th-grade honors English class, where the kids had been mostly uninterested in anything I had to say, but during this particular class, they were riveted. I was going on and on about Macbeth and the Wyrd sisters as I was pushing them to contemplate the statement, “Nothing is but what is not.” They burned their eyes into me, they sealed their mouths shut, and honed their attention. I went on and on because I knew I had them now. Yup, they were getting it at last. After the bell, they filed out silently, and I was awestruck. I was good, but I had no idea that I was THAT good. What a day!
After the class I was about to grab a bite of lunch. . .
. . .when a student, who had come into the room after the class to work through lunch (as kids often did), asked me whether someone had peed. Peed? I whipped around and saw what looked like apple juice puddled in a chair and on the floor beneath that chair and thought, NO, NO WAY, NO ONE PEED, THAT'S JUST . . Wait a minute. . . Then I remembered who had been sitting there. Though I did not perform a taste test, I knew it had to be my learning-challenged student since that had been her seat. But I had no idea how or why or when that could have happened. Then some of the other students from that class came back into the room with their lunch in tow, and I tried my best to be delicate when I asked whether they had “noticed anything during class.”
“NOTICED ANYTHING?” one girl replied. “ARE YOU KIDDING, ME? NOTICED ANYTHING?” She went on. . .(So and so) started peeing in her chair about 15 minutes into the class, and we were all staring at you in order to get you to see what was happening and to do something about it. But NOOOOOOO, you just went on and on and on, Macbeth this, Macbeth that, Nothing is nothing is nothing, blah blah blah.”
I laughed so hard, I almost. . . . .