Working with high school kids is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’ll get. That’s what it was like, yesterday when I covered for a teacher who runs the credit recovery program. In fact, this is where I spend most of my substitute time. It’s an interesting mix of kids from 9th – 12th grade.
Needless to say, the majority of the students in these classes are not your cream of the crop. Let’s just say, they’re a bit rough around the edges. And, if you’re not used to a colorful environment, you’d probably be better off somewhere else. One thing, I can say, is in-your-face disrespectful, they are not.
The last period of the day is usually a bit more rowdy. By now, kids are tired of sitting at their computers for 90 minute blocks. They usually start getting antsy about 3:00 pm, then the chatting begins. That is, all except Lexi. She begins as soon as class does. Let me tell you a bit about her.
Lexi is the type of girl that demands one of those sneaky stares when you first see her, kind of like a bad accident. You know you shouldn’t be staring, but you can’t help it. Not to be mean, but she reminds me of those hippo ballerinas on Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”. Her eyes are like two slits fighting for their own spot between two large orbs. She’s very nondescript. Because of her size, I have to remind Lexi to pull her shirt down in the back while she’s sitting, so we don’t have a “say no to crack” moment.
It’s probably the reason she fools around so much – to get attention. The problem is that she doesn’t know when to stop. Needless to say, she doesn’t get a whole lot of work done. It’s probably why the teacher has her sitting next to his desk. It’s a lot easier to redirect her from there.
My day is spent looking at two computer screens, making sure students are on task and checking to see who needs a test or a quiz. When I can, I glance around the room to see what else is going on, like texting or looking up music on their cell phones. “Okay, you guys. Don’t be on your cell phones. I’d hate to call anyone out.” When I need a stretch, I get up and walk around for a few minutes. It always scares them into putting their cell phones away.
At one point I happened to look up. There was Lexi brushing out her hair, trying to rearrange it. “Lexi, put your brush away. Your grooming should be done in the restroom.” It was the first half of the period, and she hadn’t even begun her work.
“Okay. I’m just trying to fix this part,” she said as she snuck in several more brush strokes. Several minutes later… “Mrs. DuPont, can I go to the restroom?”
I wrote her a pass. As I handed it to her, I noticed she had left her blue hairbrush setting by her computer. “Lexi, don’t you want to take your brush and finish fixing your hair?”
She gave me that blank stare of hers and said, “Oh, yeah,” as if to say ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ She walked back to her computer, grabbed her brush, and off she went.
Lexi’s back is always towards me. It’s obvious when she’s not doing what she should. “Lexi, put that (referring to her cell phone) away.” I can tell when she’s searching for music or looking at pictures. Now days, you can’t really take cellphones away. All you can do is tell them to put them away. Some, you just leave alone to keep them from disturbing other students, and hope they’ll get back on track. Lexi happens to be one of those students.
So when I heard, “F…., you!” exploding from Lexi , it took me by surprise. “Lexi!” I said with a tone of disappointment. It was 3:15 and Lexi had decided to finish her test. “But, Mrs. DuPont. Can’t they see I’m trying to take a test?” The whole thing was rather comical. I just shook my head.
It was obvious, Lexi wasn’t really angry. It was her way of telling the boys next to her to “shut up”. Never mind, they had been working the whole block without incident. I know, you’re going to say I should have written her up or sent her to the office, or given her a lunch detention. I might have, years ago. But, I’ve learned to take things into consideration when dealing with situations like this.
“Lexi, when you talk like that you become the kind of girl boys don’t take home to their mothers.” Of course, the boys next to her all chuckled. “What did you say,” she asked, peering over her left shoulder at me. I repeated myself. “It doesn’t sound nice and it’s not necessary.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about that, Mrs. DuPont. I don’t like boys. I’m gay.” She caught me off guard for a split second. I briefly looked up from the computer at her. My initial thought was I couldn’t imagine her with anyone, girl or boy.
“Nonetheless, it doesn’t sound nice and it’s not necessary.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I won’t do it, again.” But she will.
And, when I see her in Wal-Mart, we’ll smile and give each other a big hug.
A big hug.