I’m in this job for the paperwork

paperworkRandom, before I start: my neighbors have big (thirty feet? I’m bad at estimating distances) columns supporting a portico (or are the columns part of the portico?  I’m also bad at architecture) in front of their house.  There’s an honest-to-god woodpecker at the top of one of them; I heard the bastard when I got out of my car after getting home this afternoon.  He’s wailing whaling (bad at homonyms!) away up there.  Is that something I should tell them about?

Anyway.  It’s bullying awareness week, or some such bullshit.  Or maybe it was last week; I’m not aware enough to be sure.  Here is how most people think bullying works:  A bunch of children mercilessly pick on one poor bullied student, causing him to be very sad and blah blah blah.  Here is how bullying actually works, most of the time: everyone involved is an asshole and a bad actor and everyone involved is doing their best to make everyone else involved miserable as best they can, and the ones who are either the sneakiest or the quickest to file paperwork get to be the “victims” while everyone else gets to be the “bullies.”  Oh, and every time the word gets used I have a legally-mandated two days to “do an investigation” and a bunch of complicated paperwork to fill out, only to find out that Suzie told Allie that Shelly said that Sammi said that Sharon said that Allie said that Sheryl was a slut, only it turns out that Shelly didn’t actually say that, Sharon said that Allie said that to Shelly but Suzie is dating Sammi’s ex-boyfriend and Sharon’s mad at her because of it so Suzie actually said that Sammi was a slut because she was defending her on Facebook and today this is a world-ending crisis and the very second I’m done with the paperwork they’ll all be best friends again and oh never mind we worked it out until they hate each other again next week.

If you think I’m exaggerating, you’re not a teacher.  I have been doing this job for twelve years and I can count the number of unambiguous instances of clear bullying that I have witnessed on one hand.  Everything and I mean everything else has been mostly-mutual teenage bullshit of some kind or another.

That said, one of the events I’m about to describe so far may actually be pretty clear-cut, but I haven’t done my investigation yet.

Keep in mind, by the way, that these are seventh-graders.  Thirteen-year-olds.

My third and fourth hour got wrecked because of some vile combination of the following events:  1) One student suggesting to another student that she’d be open to a threesome with her ex-boyfriend and one of his friends; 2) That student reporting to the ex-boyfriend and the buddy that said threesome was a possibility; 3) Upon being asked about the possibility of said threesome via Facebook message (I’ve not seen this message, but other staff members have) the original young lady replied “No… well, maybe… LOL” and then was 4) surprised somehow when the two young gentlemen in question told everyone they knew that this was going to happen.  And then during art today there was apparently 5) an attempt to get the threesome bargained down to some oral sex for the non-ex-boyfriend while the ex-boyfriend, apparently, watched.  Throw in a different ex-girlfriend of the same dude doing her best to keep her nose in their business and one of the two guys deciding to try to get everyone to ostracize the second girl in the first conversation and you have eaten my entire day, as all four of the principals involved are in my third and fourth hour.

Note that, legally, this isn’t bullying, and I know this because we just had a meeting where we went over the legal definition of bullying in great detail.  And also note that none of it took place in school and yet it destroyed not only my entire day but at least two other staff members’ days as well.  (And while we’re noting things, note that this still qualifies as sexual harassment and it’s not being ignored.)

I’m leaving the school counselor’s office after spending the first half of my prep period with her and one of my paraprofessionals hashing all this out and making sure we’ve written down everything and notified everybody we need to notify.  I’ve done no actual preparing during my prep period.  I never do any preparing during prep; that’s Fireman Hour.

I walk to my room, sit down at my desk, and start composing an email.  The teacher next door walks into my classroom with another kid in tow– a student who I had in sixth grade two years ago who I just last week had referred to a risk-assessment psychologist on account of she’s cutting herself.  The student is being disruptive and making her job impossible and can she stay in my room for a bit? Sure, why not, this email’s gonna take me a few minutes and I’d prefer to have a good excuse to stay in my room if I can have one.

Less than five minutes later, I’m taking her back to the nurse because she’s started shrieking and ranting about how ridiculous it is that anyone thinks they can stop her from hurting herself because it’s her body and she’s gonna hurt herself if she wants to.  Well, fuckin’ great, let’s go talk to that psychologist again.  I go get the counselor (whose office, remember, I’ve just left) again and that eats another fifteen minutes of the only break (to do everything else I have to do but teach) that I have each day.  I have just enough time to run down to my room and get something that I need to have photocopied by the morning; I make it down to the photocopier as the bell is ringing and discover that the photocopier is broken.

Well, great.

Off to the gym, where I make the seventh and eighth graders sit where they’re supposed to and call off buses as they arrive.  I spot one of my (7th grade) homeroom girls, normally the sunniest, biggest-smiled kid you’ve ever seen in your life, sitting in the stands, bawling her eyes out.

No goddammit don’t ask this can only cause trouble what are you doing jesus this day is long enough don’t you NO GODDAMMIT YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHY ARE YOU WAVING HER OVER JESUS STOP IT NO NO 

“What’s wrong?”


I consider simply replying “Bullshit” and don’t; there are a few buses gone by now and there are a bunch of other teachers in the gym, so I can pull her into the hallway without officially abandoning what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

We go into the hallway.

“Let’s try that again.”

She takes a deep, shuddering breath.  Sobs again.

“Sweetie, there’s absolutely no way I’m letting you get on the bus like this.  Tell. Me. What. Happened.”

“(Eighth-grade dumbfuck) won’t leave me alone.  He asked me out yesterday and I said no and he just keeps asking and he’s been bugging me about it all day.  I can’t get him to stop.” And she starts bawling again.

Which: again, not bullying.  But is, again, at least at first blush, a pretty damn clear-cut case of sexual harassment.  By some sort of divine providence, the dumbfuck in question is part of the reason that the wrist-cutter earlier got put into my classroom; the two of them were feuding about something too.

I note that he’s already left and ask her if he has her phone number and if she thinks he’ll be calling or texting or Facebooking or anything like that tonight or if he knows where she lives or if she will be quit of him until school starts tomorrow.  She confirms that he has no way to get in touch with her and I tell her that we’ll talk about this tomorrow morning.  I reflect that she has many older brothers (like, seriously, at least four, plus at least one sister) and consider simply making sure that they have this kid’s address.

I put her on the bus and stop in the counselor’s office on my way out, asking her if she has any room on her lap left, and (as I am mandated to do by law whenever I encounter instances of sexual harassment or bullying) notify her as to the content of the conversation I’ve just had and that I’ll be following up with my official within-two-work-days investigation during homeroom.

At least I know what I’ll be doing during seventh hour tomorrow.

OH WAIT SHIT I FORGOT THIS PART edit:  I end the conversation with the counselor early because there is a parent in the office who is screaming at the attendance secretary so loudly that I can hear it halfway down the hallway through two closed doors.  As it works out, both the principal and the assistant principal have been out of the building all afternoon at different meetings and so there is really no one in the office who the secretary can refer her to.

“Yeah, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, I’mma go deal with that,” I tell the counselor, and leave her office, attempting to summon my Calm Face.  Luckily for (very likely) everyone involved, by the time I got down there another teacher had intervened already and maneuvered the lunatic into the hallway and out of the office.  As it turned out he was apparently who she was looking for anyway; I hung around for a minute until I decided he didn’t really need any help (turns out that kids who are angry psychotics tend to have angry psychotic parents; who knew?) and went down to my room to get my stuff, the music of her discontent accompanying me the whole way.

The end.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

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