I should explain. I’ve had plenty of kids with anger management issues. I’ve had plenty of kids who had explosive tempers. That’s part and parcel of working in an urban middle school, and frankly is probably part and parcel of working with middle schoolers no matter where you find them. But I’ve got a handful of girls in my afternoon class for whom pissed off at the world seems to be their only available emotional state. They walk in angry and they somehow manage to stay angry for the entire time they’re in the room. That’s the weird part. Kids get angry all the time; they get angry at me all the time. I’m used to that. They don’t stay that way for long. For a kid to keep up an angry mood for three successive class periods is exceptionally rare, and to do it for multiple days in a row practically unheard of. Being mad is hard. It takes work. Most of them don’t have it in them.
And somehow in this group I have more than one of them.
I’m being weird today. My son’s birthday was last Sunday, and today he got a gift card for Toys R’ Us in the mail from my aunt, so the three of us went to the comic shop (it’s Wednesday, after all) and to the toy store after I got home from work. And the toy store managed to depress me. I don’t even know why, but I’m still fighting it off.
I owe you two stories, I think. The first one is the Holy Water story I teased the other day. One of my girls in my afternoon class– not one of the angry ones– came up to me on Monday and asked if she could go to her locker. Later in the year this will be met with a near-automatic “no” except in case of emergencies, but they’re fifth graders and they’re not used to having to bring all of their stuff with them into classrooms so I’m being nice. I do generally ask what they need, though.
“I need to put something in my locker,” she says.
Ah. This is automatically lower-priority than needing to get something from a locker. “What do you need to put in your locker?”
“My holy water.”
“You’re carrying holy water with you?”
Parts of my brain immediately start a cage match with other parts of my brain, doing their best to starve the entire thing of any residual oxygen.
“Why, my dear, do you have holy water with you in class?” Because Holy shit this is actually a new one.
“It helps me concentrate.”
“And… you have decided that you don’t need to concentrate any longer? We still have an entire class period left after we finish with math.”
“No. I’m tired and I think I’m done concentrating for today.”
“I think your holy water needs to stay with you, then. Perhaps it could use a recharge this Sunday; it appears to be losing some of its potency.”
“So I need to keep concentrating?”
She stands there and stares at me for a minute.
“Back to your seat, dear.”
She turns and leaves.
Today, as we’re working on two-digit multiplication, a concept they all appeared to have a decent grasp of until I began trying to teach it, one of my girls came up to me and demanded that I yell at her.
“Why do you need me to do that?”
“Because you yelled at me yesterday and I went back to my seat and did my work.”
I think about this. I didn’t yell at anyone yesterday. In fact, I’ve made a big deal with this class that I didn’t even need to raise my voice on Monday or Tuesday after a reasonably rough first couple of days.
“I don’t remember yelling at you yesterday.”
She thinks for a minute. “That was my teacher last year. Sorry. Can you yell at me anyway?”
Brain, cage match, starving, etc.
“Honey, I don’t think–”
“I really think it’ll help.”
What in the blue sadomasochistic fuck is going on right now.
She finally got me to bark GET AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NOW at her, at which point she smiled, thanked me, and literally skipped off back to her seat. I watched her for a moment and then looked over my shoulder, fully convinced that one of my bosses would have taken that moment to appear in my classroom for the first time all year. No one was there. The kids all looked shocked for a moment, then realized what was going on and went back to what they were doing. They were so blasé about it, in fact, that I find myself suspecting that this was a regular move that this kid pulled last year. Which… hell, I don’t even know what to do about that.
I’ll stop being tired all the time soon, right? How the fuck is it 9 PM already?