During my ten years of teaching public school, I had many a student that caused me grief.
The 8th grader transfer student who called me a bitch in front of the whole class on his first day.
The brilliant 7th grade boy who lit matches in the hallway and dropped them on the carpet to see what would happen.
My entire 8 Low English class (yes, that’s what it said on their schedules) that brought me to tears more than once but ended up being my favorite people.
The kids who lost, stole, or damaged books from my own personal library, books that I had picked up at garage sales (sometimes the people would just give them to me when they found out I taught middle school).
I had the best check-out library this side of the actual middle school library down the hall. My collection included S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, joke books, riddle books, Paula Danziger’s books, and all of Judy Blume’s titles, even Forever, which talked about doing it (sex).
“Susan, I don’t think it’s appropriate that you allow the kids access to that book,” the head of the English department told me.
“They have to ask their parents first,” I said.
We both knew that the students would fudge the truth about that.
I checked out books to my English, Spanish, homeroom and study hall students.
One homeroom boy had the other teacher for 8 Low English. His little brother was in my study hall. Dennis and Billy were from the trailer park down by the Missouri River. I barely knew them since I wasn’t teaching them anything, just supervising them.
On the last day of school, Dennis still hadn’t returned my book. I’d spent the two weeks previous trying to get them back from everyone before summer vacation. The deal was, if they didn’t return the book they had to pay a dollar for it or help me out after school.
I walked over to Dennis, showed him the check-out sheet, pointed to his name that he had signed, and said, Where is my book?”
He looked at me with contempt and spat, “I don’t have your damn book!”
“Here’s your signature right here, Dennis,” I said.
The boy glared up at me like a wild animal that had been cornered. He stared at me until I felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise up. The kid was scary. I walked away from him, deciding it wasn’t worth it.
A few years later, after I’d left the school district to get married and move to California, one of my Omaha friends sent me a newspaper clipping (remember newspapers?) about two brothers from the Council Bluffs school district where I’d taught. They had murdered a female classmate down by the Missouri River. It was supposedly a drug deal gone bad.
Guess who it was.
Are the hairs on the back of your neck raised up? Because mine still are.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve pushed the issue of the missing book, Dennis would’ve knocked me down in my classroom. I would’ve ended in the hospital, and he would’ve ended up in juvey. Maybe he never would’ve been involved with the girl whose life he took, or maybe it all would’ve gone down the same way.