Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Devil's Own

I hate 9th graders.

Ninth graders typically cruise through middle school, regressing backward towards elementary before being sling shot through puberty and colliding into the upper grades. They are typically immature and childish, puerile juveniles on hair trigger responses. Managing a ninth grade class is akin to handling nitro and glycerin, one wrong move and they explode in all directions at once, giggling and out of their seats, unable to sit still or concentrate.

Ninth graders typically have to be re-trained how to be students, it's as if the three years spent in middle school have been spent in a playground. Middle school isn't a school, it's a prison - do your three and you'll get released on good behavior. Don't sweat it, fail as much as you like, the teachers will pass you on, the system can't hold you back. The teachers have to make room for the new crop coming in.

This year I'm co-teaching with a strong, no-nonsense teacher named Bustamante. He has experience as a special ed aide, which is why I like putting kids in his class. He understands what special ed can and cannot do.

He's also built like a tank and has a 3rd degree Tae Kwan Do black belt.

Kids tend not to mess with him.

This year they loaded him up with three 9th grade classes, two of them honors English.

So far, not one kid in any 3 classes has yet to recieve an A. Even B's are few and far between.

My kids are placed in his second block class, general ed 9th grade English. There may be five kids in his class that try hard, another five with potential.

The remaining fifteen think it's one big joke.

Guess which group special ed is in?

Today Bustamante called out with car trouble, so it fell onto me to take over the class and give the periodic assessment. Twenty-five freshman, one periodic assessment, one grumpy substitute.

Hilarity ensues.

As soon as I walk in kids are out of their seats, scattered all over the room in clumps of two's and threes. I yell out a warning and the majority of them grudingly slump back to their seats. A few stubborn ones cling on, refusing to move.

I warn them that I'll give them 60 seconds to move, then they go to the Dean's. They try to argue, protest, appeal my decision though a combination of whines and convuluted logic. Mister, just let me sit here! I won't talk, I promise! Why won't you let me sit here, Mister? I'm not doing anything. C'mon Mister, can't I just sit here once today?

"Thirty seconds!" I bark.

They eventually move towards their seats. There is no reasoning with 9th graders.

I inform the class that the periodic assessment is the final test before semester grades. If they don't want to retake half of the class over, they had best try their best on the test. For a moment, I have their attention, but as I pass out the tests they are diverted by an unseen force, jerking in their seats.

I tell them not to talk, to try their best, but some of them are already more interested in the day's gossip or practicing their tagging skills on pieces of paper. The test has barely begun, and they've already given up.

I spend the rest of the period putting out fires as I valiantly attempt to answer questions and guide some of the slower students along - but when you've got twenty slow students it feels like you are shouldering a burden worthy of Atlas.

I send one of mine out, an ADHD student who continuously puts his hoodie up and his head down, refusing to even try. After the third time I catch him talking I take out a chair and have him sit outside. There is nothing he dislikes more then being forced to go outside and be by himself. He craves attention the way a fish craves water.

But first I collect his backpack as collateral, can't have him running off.

I rush about the room constantly, one problem after another. Mister, I need help! C'mere mister! Mister, can I go to the bathroom? Mister, I need tissue. Mister, my pencil broke! Mister, I don't get this? Mister, can I go get a drink of water? I can't determine what is worse, their immaturity or emotional neediness - many of them won't even attempt to write without me standing over their shoulder.

One of my student's makes wierd noises. Edmund. I cross over to him and stare. "You've got my attention." I state. "Work." I remain, eyes glued to his face. After a few seconds he gets nervous, asks me to leave. I remain, as silent and still as a statue. He asks me to leave again. I remain. After three minutes he finally puts pencil to paper and begins to write.

It will be the only sentence he writes the entire test.

I spot a pretty girl practicing her calligraphy for a future mural, which would be great, if we were in art class.

I sit down beside her, she stares at me wide, mascara eyes. I don't know her, I've never spoken with her, but my experience has walked me through this all before. She's the PYT who has just learned the power of her looks, trading in on her cute perkiness to slide through life.

It's an old cliche.

I ask her why she won't do the work. She won't answer. "Is it because you don't want to do it, or is it too hard?" I ask.

She shrugs. I still won't leave. "Don't you have to help someone else?" she asks.

"Right now I'm helping you. Answer my question."

"Because I don't want to do it."

"Why don't you want to do it?"

"Because I'm lazy."

"Why are you lazy?"

This stumps her. I ask her another question. "How can I help you so you can graduate?"

She refuses to answer, looks wildly about the room, unable to meet my gaze.

The circle of students around her have grown quiet, all of them focused on what is going to be said next.

"Has anyone in your family graduated?" I ask.

She shakes her head. "So," I continue, "Imagine yourself 3 years from now walking on stage in your blue gown, shaking the principal's hand, your family cheering along with all the teachers. Imagine how proud they'll feel."

The girl stares ahead, blankly.

"You do want to graduate, don't you?"

"Yes." she replies, irritated. "I am going to graduate."

"Not without passing this class."

"I don't need to take this class. I'll pass another class."

"Another class? You have to pass 9th grade English to graduate."

The girl rolls her eyes. "I'll pass a different teacher's class."

It is my turn to shake my head. "It doesn't get easier, it only gets harder."

But the girl has tuned me out, retreated deep inside to a secret place that only she herself knows. I stand up. "Today you passed up an opportunity. They'll be others, but they're fewer then you think."

She ignores me. I spare a glance for the kids around us. They are all silent.

I collect the tests. Although they've had an entire period, barely half of them are finished. It's hard to gossip and answer essay prompts about the dangers of video games at the same time.

If the kids don't give a flying fuck, why the hell should I?


  1. Hey man. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your blog. It's hard to think of much that's appropriate to say in response to most entries...but that doesn't mean no one's out here reading.

  2. Me to.
    I seriously want to wring there scrawny little necks half the time and if not that then hit them with something large and blunt.

    P.s. It's Amber A.K.A. Batman