The S-Word

I help/observe a classroom for Mrs. B, a five foot tall (and that is probably being generous, I'm taller) Canadian woman with a loud voice, a very pregnant belly, and a spunky personality. The ratio between her small stature and her bursting stomach makes you feel as if you should stand next to her at all times in case she tips over. She is a great teacher. We have the same Uggs. (The blackish/greyish knitted kind, not the obnoxiously bland, beige ones.)

Yesterday she had a substitute, Mr. Griffin. I walk into the classroom and introduce myself. I told him I help run the after-school program for the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club at the middle school, blah blah blah. He took one look at me, saw a young Jr. higher and dismissed everything I said. I sat down and snickered. If he can't have a conversation with an older person who resembles a jr. higher, he'll be dominated by the real ones.

The kids see Mr. Griffin, ignore the seating arrangement, and talk with their friends. Their confidence level escalates. The last bell rings, no one has taken a seat except for me.

"Class, please stop talking."


"Class, please stop talking."

"Hello class, shhhh, I have some advice for you. Shhh..."

The noise has died down at this point. He's an older, white American male who lives in Bellevue. As far as the students can tell, his entire life has surmounted to substitute teaching. They already have little respect for the guy. But they are all excited. What he mentions in the next few minutes might provide them with a chance to say some wise-ass comment. This unique accomplishment would crown them the god of the classroom.

He takes the silence as an encouragement.

"Class, I am sorry but we have to wait for everyone to be quiet in order for us to begin. Sad to say it is a requirement now. We have to wait for everyone. Class, this is why, shhh.. it is because of No Child Left Behind. My first piece of advice is to be quiet....

Hey you, please listen...

...is to be quiet in the classroom because schools have to wait for every student before they can move forward. I know it is frustrating, but it is the rule. I personally think it's a good rule."

I squirm in my chair. I have no idea why he's talking about No Child Left Behind. He is blaming his inability to start class on a policy which he eventually claims to support. Everyone including himself, I think, is confused.

Phoebe, a girl who I've never heard speak up the entire time I've worked in their classroom proudly blurts out, "Sir, what does that have to do with anything?"

(that made me happy.)

"Shhh.... please, I need to give you the second piece of advice."

"But you didn't answer my que..."

"Enough, please. The second piece of advice, and this will help you in succeeding in school, you must write everything down. Have any of you written down my name?"

His advice would have been helpful if he'd said the opposite. If I had written everything down in college my hand would no longer function. He points to the white board where he wrote, "Mr. Griffin" in small letters. Unfortunately, he wrote his name within the blue masking-tape square Mrs. B devoted to addressing information for the Period 5 Social Studies. This is a period 6 AVID class.

Andy, a very sweet kid, raises his hand and said,

"Mr. Griffin, we aren't supposed to write down what's in that box becau...."

"You are not listening to my advice. Remember the very first thing I said about being quiet and listening? Instead you were not talking."

"You are right, I wasn't talking, I don't get...."

"I mean you were talking. Shhh... I really like you kids."

Kam'Ryn laughs. She whispers in my ear, "No you don't you old fudgebag."

He looks over at Kam'Ryn and said, "You know, it's a really bad thing when the Sub knows your name."

What a sad thought.

He eventually stopped trying to be profound and gave them a worksheet that made them answer questions about an accomplishment they are proud of and a time they made a mistake and felt really bad about it.

These kids can be rude, disrespectful, and ridiculous. But they also don't want to be fed bullshit. They put up a front, duh, but adults have to see through that. We are taking them away from the really important things: their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, drama, skating, dancing, smoking weed and we substitute all of that for politically correct ashes. What keeps adults from approaching conversations with students about things that make sense?

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