Be Cool

There’s a side of me that my friends never see, and that is the strict disciplinarian. I’m actually considered one of the stricter teachers in the building, someone who is perfectly capable of holding down a class full of Crips. I’m perfectly capable of giving a kid three days suspension for not calling me “Sir” — and I have.

And, as odd as it all sounds, I do it out of love. I have often said to colleagues who despair, who want to just walk out, “If not you, then who? Who is going to do this job? Who is going to love these kids? Who, if not you?”

I have a number of students who are genuinely mentally ill, a few with genuine personality disorders. I’m no diagnostician, but it is clear enough that abandonment issues, not surprisingly, seem to lead the list of issues.

And for good reason. The year before I was hired to teach 7th grade, that same 7th grade had seven English teachers, one of whom lasted a day.

One quarter of my job is education. Three quarters of my labor is social¬ization. Underlying all that, my job is simply being here, simply showing my students that a male can be a stable object in their lives.

One day I ask Dolan, in a round about way, if he has any insight into Perry. Perry is perfectly capable of — and I mean this literally — talking from the very beginning until the very end of the day. Ranting, really. Perry is genuinely mentally ill. So I ask Dolan about Perry. He’s known Perry since 4th grade.

“Oh, Perry, he’s always been like that. But really, he’s just like all the rest of us.”

‘What do you mean?’

“He’s just like all the rest of us — he doesn’t have a father.” At which point Dolan, whose plans include the N. F. L., tells me how he’s OK, because he taught himself how to play halfback. So he doesn’t need a dad.

One day, I was teaching and the kids were talking, acting-up. I tried to shut them up several times, but to no avail. So I put my head in my hand for half a second, and said what has become my favorite prayer — “Lord, you’ve entrusted me with Your most sacred creation, the children. Now give me the strength, Lord, the strength …”.

At which point Kevin looks up at me, worried, and says to the class, “Be cool, everybody. Be cool. Or he’s going to leave us just like everyone else leaves us.”

At which point I remember that this English class had seven teachers last year, including the teacher who came and went in one day.

So I take a few moments and remind them that, on the very first day, I promised them that I will never abandon them. I haven’t. And I won’t.

Thus assured, they return to talking and acting up.


Filed under: Prose, Publius