Saturday, August 22, 2009


I used to have this student, we'll call him Damien, who, if not number one, was certainly high on the list of all time worst students. His file from the counselor's office was dictionary thick and contained every derivative of the ADHD acronym known to medical science. Some doctor somewhere probably started making up disorders to describe Damien and, I can testify, still fell well short of diagnosing him. You name it, he did it: Tardiness, outbursts, non-existent organizational abilities, sleeping in class, total disregard for the rules, anger. Having written that, I'm sure some of my former teachers are rolling their eyes at the irony, but this kid took it to a new level.

To be fair, Damien was also an entertainer. He was a gifted athlete, reluctantly bright (bright enough to know exactly how to get under his teachers' skin), and genuinely hilarious. I can recall a number of times having to stifle a laugh before disciplining him upon overhearing Damien rag on a classmate or let loose with some completely inappropriate remark during the lesson. Still though, his antics wore on me and, as a coach, I was flummoxed when the nuclear punishment of bypassing a parental phone call and going straight to his coach failed to effect the proper improvement in his behavior.

Eventually, Damien transfered to another school in another district and the other students in his Spanish I class, suddenly free from disruption, actually showed signs of learning Spanish. But as with any problem, foisting Damien onto some other poor educator did not solve the issue. After the Christmas break, I was informed that Damien had worn out his welcome in the other school and, after a brief stint in the "Alternative Center" (this is the Orwellian name given to the lock down boot camp school in the school district I used to teach), would be rejoining my class.

I met Damien at the door on his first day back and read him the Riot Act. One slip up and he was gone. At least, that's what I told him. I had only been teaching for a few months and I had already learned that in a public school short of actually beheading another student during class and running around the room wearing their decapitated head as a hat...naked there was nothing a student could really do to get expelled. Damien nodded his understanding of the new strictures, dropped a few "yes sirs" and took his old seat. As he walked passed me into the classroom, I could see the mischievous grin spread across his lips and I knew nothing that had happened to him in the last few months -check that - years had made any change in his behavior.

Still, I was cautiously optimistic after I had finished the lesson and divided the students into work groups and Damien had not yet done anything untoward. As the students began working orally on their assignment, I settled into my desk to grade a few papers before making rounds among the groups to offer help and instruction. And then I heard it, I'm not sure if you've ever been around a large number of people taking their first clumsy steps into learning a new language, but it isn't pretty. In fact, it sounds like a room of mildly retarded children mimicking animal sounds. I can remember my mother coming to a middle school band concert I was in and, after listening to our efforts to play carols, said as politely as she could that she had never heard Jingle Bells preformed as a funeral dirge. It's like that. So you can imagine, just as an actual rooster might sound in the retard example or how a member of the Boston Philharmonic might sound in the Jingle Bells example, a native speaker speaking his native language would ring out with crystal clarity. It took me a second to process what I had heard and who had said it, but as I looked up and saw the sparkling, devilish grin on Damien's face I cursed myself for not knowing better. Damien had indeed been practicing proper usage of the preterite and imperfect tenses, but what he had said was not Spanish and was most certainly not in the book.

I immediately stood up from my desk, pointed at Damien, and firmly booted him from the class. The other students reflexively hushed and listened as I instructed him to leave the classroom and go to the Behavior Improvement Center (another Orwellian name for what was called detention in my day), a referral would be waiting for him in the principal's office. He reluctantly stood up, threw his bag over his shoulder, and muttered something as he slammed the classroom door behind him. After he had left, I called the BAC and informed them that Damien should be there in a few minutes and sat down to write the referral. The rest of the class slowly eased back in to their animal sounds and the period ended a few minutes later.

Now, as a teacher, they tell you in instances where a student has said something inappropriate that you have to write down exactly what the student said so that a proper assessment of the crime can occur. This scared me a little as I imagined the principal's secretary, a woman eerily reminiscent of my conservative, Methodist grandmother, reading the referral and immediately going into cardiac arrest. I decided it would be better to deliver the referral first to the counselor as I was going to demand Damien be removed from my class.

The next period was my lunch period. I took the time to march down to the counselor's office and deliver the referral, reading it along the way to make sure I had actually written what I knew I had.

"I want Damien Ragsdale removed from my class immediately," I said as I handed the surprised counselor the referral.

"Well, I can't just do that," replied the counselor, "What did he do," she asked without reading the referral.

"Well, he said something inappropriate."

"Well, Mr. Smith, it takes a lot more than words to remove a student from a class. The student has to have done something exceptionally inappropriate like, for instance...". The counselor trailed off as she unintentionally began to confirm my suspicions that a naked decapitation really was what it would take. "What did he say?"

I took a deep breath and, with a straight face said, "So, I was in the shower this morning, right? And I was beatin' my meat with the two handed technique. You know, 'cause my dick's so big."

The counselor stared back at me with her chin on the desk. The office that had previously been a whirring hive of activity, crowded with teachers' aides, copiers, and administrators, fell totally silent.

I continued, "And he didn't say it in Spanish."

Damien was removed from my class.

1 comment:

Sarah Kennedy said...

Amidst a crappy day full of the unfunny, thanks for the few giggles I just got out of this one.