Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Vision Softly Creeping
A very odd thing happened today during my 9th period class. This class is in an icy-cold, cavernous room in an out-of-the-way corner of the basement behind the nurses office. It’s a small class – less than twenty kids – and the room is huge. It doesn’t have to be so cold. There’s a switch that activates the heat, but along with the stuffy hot air it blows out a sound not unlike a school bus being forced through a garbage disposal.

So we sat, chilly and sleepy in the big room on this hidden corridor underneath Shitty’s auditorium, and I had the kids fill out their Delaney cards so that I could be sure to tie the cursed little slips of cardboard up with a rubber-band and throw them in a box never to be seen again until I have to return them at the end of the semester.

Then I passed out a “Class Contract” which I had banged out in a brief fit of new-semester enthusiasm the other night. It asks the kids to pledge to, “at all times respect themselves, their classmates, their environment, and their teacher, Mr. Babylon.” It goes on to give a number of examples of specific things they will and will not do (all violated repeatedly in the pages of this blog,) all the while emphasizing that these are but examples of disrespect, and just because an act has not been listed does not mean it is permissible. Finally it asked the kids to write down a goal they have for themselves in the upcoming semester. It’s all very authoritative and patronizing and the kind of thing I would have scrawled an anarchy symbol on, stuck a knife through, and left dangling from a bulletin board back when I was a kid.

Everything so far was going fine. A little effeminate hyperactive boy named Alejandro kept standing up and fidgeting, and a slightly cross-eyed gangster kid named Angel (never a moniker of good omen,) kept asking me questions about how much homework we’re going to have and how much it counts. He was worried he said, because “he don’t do homework.”

Finally, I asked the kids to write a quick paragraph about what they’d done during Regents week, standard practice with a new class to see where their writing abilities are (or, more often, aren’t) and make sure nobody has been misplaced too egregiously.

My first shock came when they all immediately pulled out paper and something to write with. No-one got up and grabbed my pencil off my desk. No-one shouted across the room that they needed paper. No-one tossed a pen with wicked velocity at anyone else.

They crooked their arms, put their heads down, leaned in and began to write. All of them, and they didn’t stop. No-one whispered. No-one giggled. No-one got up and began throwing things out the window. The room was completely silent save for the barely perceptible scratching of pens on paper. The hallway was silent too. Not a soul around.

I looked on in awe for a minute, and then felt strangely uncomfortable. With no-one to tell to sit down or shut up, and no-one badgering me about how to spell every other word they wrote, I didn’t know what to do. I was just standing there. I walked over to my desk, sat down and shuffled some papers. I double-checked my attendance. I stood up and paced the front of the room. I walked up and down the rows looking over the kids’ shoulders as they determinedly wrote away. I walked over to the window, leaned on the sill, and watched last week’s snow melt.

My legs began to sweat. I fought the urge to slam a drawer, or drop a book, or yell “boo yaa!” at the top of my lungs.

I might have a whole new set of problems on my hands here.

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