I’ve talked before about my many years as a middle school English teacher, and although I’m no longer a regular classroom teacher, it’s not because I didn’t love it. I did. I loved it so much. I only moved on because, well, life. And other opportunities that were too awesome to pass up.
But I could see myself going back to it someday. People used to always compliment me on how great I was with the kids, and I would say, “Um, it’s because I have the personality of a 12-year-old boy. We have a blast in the classroom together. It’s hard for me to teach Mad Libs because I laugh when they use ‘balls,’ too. And don’t even get me started on ‘nuts.’ But don’t worry; they’re still learning a shit-ton because I’m a huge grammatical asshole.”
I was usually talking to the parents of the kids I was teaching when I gave explanations like the one above. And yet, somehow they still loved me. I’ve never figured it out, but dammit, I’ll take it.
One of my absolute favorite stories from my time in the field happened on my very first day of teaching when I was just out of college, a fresh-faced, 22-year-old bottle blonde who acted as if she had balls of steel because she was scared shitless. Middle schoolers can be a tough crowd, you know, and I hadn’t yet learned that I had an easy knack with them and things would go really, really smoothly for the next several years. (Now I’m just bragging. Insert imaginary hair flip... “Who, me? The best teacher in the world? You shouldn’t have…”)
It was 6th hour, and if you haven’t experienced a school day in many years, believe me when I say that 6th hour is the dreaded hour. A healthy lunch of breaded chicken patties and curly fries has just settled all the way in the body, and kids are trying desperately not to fart it off while they’re also trying to just stay awake. Everybody’s tired and nobody wants to be there. (Here’s where I have to insert a strong opinion. Teachers: TAKE THEM OUT TO RECESS for 10 minutes when you and/or they start to feel this way. I don’t care how old they are. They still need it.)
All of the shine and sparkle of the first day of school had, by this hour of the day, totally worn off. It was hot, hair was wilting, pits were sweating and many of them hadn’t yet realized that it was TIME to start wearing deodorant (Don’t worry, I fixed that later in the year when I walked into the room and said, “Holy MOLY you guys need to start wearing deodorant. ALL of you,” and they did), it stank, and nobody had time—or patience—for fucking adjectives.
But still, we had to suck it up and plow through the rest of the day.
I began calling roll, not just to make sure everyone was there, but also to begin getting familiar with names and faces. Toward the end of my list, I saw this name:
“SHAT-ika?” I said, looking around the room. I expected a quick raise of the hand, a “Here!”…something. But I got nothing.
“SHAT-ika?” I said again, now with a little eyebrow raise that I really hoped conveyed a “Don’t fuck with me" vibe but was probably totally off.
Still, nobody said anything.
I sighed. “SHAT-ika?” I repeated once more, thinking, what the hell am I going to do if they do start fucking with me? Can I give a detention for not raising your hand when I call your name? Because all of the seats were full and I knew nobody was absent.
I started noticing little twitters around the room, kids giving each other tentative glances, but I could also feel that they weren’t being disrespectful. They weren’t making fun of me. So what gave?
In the back of the room, I saw two boys glancing at each other with knowing looks and a girl shifting uncomfortably in her chair. “Do you guys know where SHAT-ika is?” I asked gently.
The girl’s head was kind of down; I could see that she didn’t want any extra attention drawn to her, so I decided to drop it and figure it out later. I placed an “A” for absent by Shatika’s name, and just as I was getting ready to call the next one, I heard a voice from the back of the room. It was one of the boys I had noticed earlier.
“Um, did you maybe mean Sha-TEE-ka?”
ShaTEEka. Of course. Even now, so many years later, I cannot believe how badly I fucked that one up. It’s so obvious when a person looks at it—I blame it on the nerves of the first day.
All of the kids started laughing, even Shatika, and she gave me an understanding smile. She forgave my gaff and ended up being one of my all-time favorite students. (Yes, we have them, and don’t let any teacher tell you otherwise or she’s a lying whore.)
Shatika and I still keep in touch.
She sent me this video a couple of weeks ago with the message, “All in fun, Miss T!” She still calls me by my maiden name, and it makes me feel young.
Love that girl.
I can’t stop laughing at this video. I swear I cry every time I watch it. I love when my former students have grown up and totally get my sense of humor. Enjoy, and happy back-to-school!