Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I Ain't Mad Atcha
I have been known, in my classroom, to do and say things I am not supposed to do. Sometimes I cross lines because it is unavoidable and seems like the right and only thing to do. Sometimes I cross lines because I like my way better and don’t feel particularly compelled to give a fuck whether some administrator or other teacher might disapprove. Sometimes I just screw up.

Christopher is a big kid, if I had to guess I’d say he goes about 6’1”/200, and although I’ve never seen him in action, I know he’s been in his fair share of scraps. He’s got a big, c-shaped scar on the brow above his right eye, another on the back of his head, and the knuckles on his meaty fists are scarred and swollen into smooth, round discs. His dad is in Federal prison down in Alabama, and Christopher mentions him often in his writing. I asked Chris what his dad was in for, and he told me his father was in “wrong place, wrong time.” I left it at that; I’m not sure that Chris knows any more details himself.

Chris can barely write and is a big pain in the ass – always throwing something, yelling obscenities out the window, or turning his desk into a makeshift drum-kit. He needs a ton of attention, and will often only work if he’s sitting at my desk. He’s also a real charmer, and can be a genuine sweetheart - a big, burly teddy bear. I’ve caught him writing on the board before, “Mr. Babylon is…” with the rest covered up by his big, beefy frame. I’ll roar at him and come over ready to spit fire and he’ll giggle and run back to his seat revealing the punch line, “best teacher.” He’s also been known to take a random homework assignment and turn it into a typed and illustrated epic.

Tony, a block-headed kid with an under-bite, is a different sort altogether. He’s not stupid, and is in fact the best, most fluent reader in the class, but he’s stubborn as a mule and has far less common sense. He’s the type of kid that will tell me he’s done his work, show me something from a completely different class (often en espanol) and then insist that he’s right even after I call him out on it. I’m always catching him throwing something at somebody, and, without fail, the other guy “started it.” I’ve tried explaining how in basketball it’s always the guy that retaliates that gets caught by the refs. Maybe if he was old enough to remember Dennis Rodman it would have caught on. As it is, it did not.

The other kids screw with him constantly, partly because his reactions are so predictable, and partly because there’s something about the kid that just grates on the nerves. He sure gets on mine. I frequently find myself snapping at him or giving him a zero for the day in situations where I would be much more patient with anyone else.

I don’t know what he did, but the other day he pissed Christopher off something fierce. It was the beginning of class, and I was just getting everyone settled down, when I heard the eruption in the back of the room.

A desk crashed over and Chris was up and in Tony’s chest, red-faced and spittle flying, “Fuck you, nigga! Wha? Wha?”

Tony, hard headed as ever, didn’t back down. “Fuck you, nigga,” he jutted out and tilted his big, square chin for effect, but his eyes betrayed his fear.

By the time I got across the room shoves had turned to punches, and arms were flailing. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I went straight at the real threat. I slid in between the two of them and got right in Chris’s face, with Tony behind me.

“Stop it. Sit down.”

They continued swinging at each other around my head, so I put my hands in the middle of Christopher’s spongy barrel of a chest and shoved. I don’t know if I tapped some heretofore hidden reserve of grown-man strength or if he didn’t resist out of respect, but he went backwards, and I followed him, pointing him into a chair where he sat, breathing through his broad, pimply nose and fuming like a bull.

“Oooh! Oh shit! You see that, nigga?” the class reacted, but not to my heroics. “Tony pushed you, Mista. Whatchu gon’ do?”

“That nigga push Mr. Babylon.”

In the heat of the moment I hadn’t felt a thing, but apparently, in a moment of cowardly opportunism, Tony had shoved me in the back while I was saving him from a severe shit-kicking.

Since I hadn’t felt anything and didn’t feel like dealing with it, I left it at that. I stuck him in a corner, marked both kids a zero for the day, and tried to continue my lesson.

The next day Tony was at it again, mule-headed as ever, refusing to move from a desk by the window where he kept playing with the shades. This is where I said something I regret.

”Get up and move, you stubborn little punk. You need to learn some respect." Here it comes. "I should have let Christopher kick your ass yesterday.”

Oops. Oh well.

Christopher came up to me after class. I was tired and surly, and didn’t bother to look up at him as I gathered my stuff to go home for the day.

“Mr. Babylon, you gave me zero yesterday?”

I nodded barely, giving him the silent treatment.

“Cause I was fighting?” His voice was soft, almost babyish.

I bit my lip and nodded again, this time looking him in the eye.

He nodded as if to acknowledge the fairness of my mark.

“You good teacher, Mr. Babylon. See you tomorrow.”

See how easy it is, kids. Don’t be a punk, and Mr. Babylon won’t hold a grudge.

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