I Just Called to Say…Oh No He Didn’t!

What up, Peopleaneous! What do y’all think of your new spelling: Peopleaneous? Does it sound too much like People Anus? I’m thinking the extra l in peoplleaneous may draw our eyes away from the anus part. In other news, welcome to my brain. Because this is the kinda shit that I get preoccupied with.

I don’t particularly feel much better today. In fact, I feel like steamed shit with a side of mashed shitatoes. But for some reason, this memory popped into my head. A good one. From a few years ago. And I’m gonna share it with ya, peopleaneous. (There is an “e” in there that should make it clear I’m not saying anus. I’ve just ruined it forever, haven’t I?)

Raised by the Streets

A couple of you are aware that I was a teacher for a brief time. It’s been mentioned once or twice in comments, but I don’t think I’ve ever brought it up in a post. I may speak to that more in depth later, but for now it’s only important to lay the groundwork for this delightful little episode in my life.

At the time of this incident, I was teaching third grade. This was in a ghetto school in a ghetto neighborhood in a ghetto town in a ghetto parish (yes parish, not county…Louisiana, remember?). And no, I’m not using the word “ghetto” loosely. I went to teach there on purpose, because I spent a large chunk of my childhood raised in the ghetto. And I know, first hand, that it’s those kids that need people who give a fuck about them in their lives. The ones in privileged areas (or any area that isn’t in abject poverty)? Their chances of having people give a shit about them are exponentially higher than those raised in the hood.

sesame

So yeah. That’s where I was. And fuckin’ hell, I loved those kids to death. Talk about spirit and will. It takes boatloads of that to survive in that environment. And man, you can learn a thing or ten from kids like that. Those little people remain some of the best people I’ve encountered in all of my thirty-something years.

Some most of my colleagues openly gave Not One Fuck about those kids. They were there for the paychecks and the summers off. And believe me, the kids know which teachers respect them and which ones don’t. And I have not one ounce of pity for the teachers that give not one fuck. They deserve the hell they’re put through. Yeah, I said it. They fucking deserve the absolute shitstorm those kids subject them to.

You have to give respect to get it. Earn it. Fucking earn it. You want kids to respect you? Then you sure as hell better start by respecting them. You’re a fucking teacher: teach respect. I don’t care if teaching is your profession or not…all adults model behavior for children, wittingly or no. Teach them respect.

Whew. I got really. Really worked up just then. Seriously, I can feel my heart racing. I’m gonna hop down off that soapbox…for now…and get to the tale. I just wantedΒ  you to know that this kid I’m about to tell you about is a straight up street kid, raised by drug-addicted criminals and bounced from crowded shack to crowded shack. Little sleep, malnourished, serious anger problems, semi-violent tendencies…this is the nine year old I’m talking about. And damnit, I loved him. And you would have, too.

Class Clown

Because he wasn’t just those things. Yes, those were part of the shaping forces in his life. But you know what else he was? He was curious, clever, mischievous (in non-sinister ways), and damn did that boy love attention. Positive attention. He was my class clown, by a landslide. And I loved it. He was great comic relief and brightened the kids’ moods so many times.

Sometimes it was disruptive, yes, and we would have one-on-one talks about his behavior. And he always knew I respected him. They all knew that.

So this one particular day, I had just finished up a lesson and was moving on to the next subject when Jamal (made-up name but similar to his own) raised his hand. I ignored it. (Dude, kids raise their hands all the fucking time. Sometimes you gotta ignore that shit, or you’ll never get anything done. Also, the class’ behavior had been particularly difficult, and I was not in the best of moods.) After a bit, he started waving it. I gave him the look, and he stopped. But it wasn’t long before he got going again – then he added a little whine to it and lurched forward, plopping his upper body across his desk and pathetically waving his hand over the edge. It was so fucking dramatic…I was annoyed but also amused. I had to fight to hide my amusement.

~

It had gotten so disruptive at this point that I had to address it:

Me: Jamal, now is the time to sit up and knock it off if this isn’t important.

Jamal: It’s really really important.

Me: *gives him the look*

Jamal: I swear! It’s for real this time! (His eyebrows are raised and his face all scrunched up in that pathetic little “I’m about to start bawling” look.)

Me: *sigh* Alright, what is it? Do we need to talk at my desk?

Jamal: *shakes his head and slowly begins to extend his arm toward me* Ms. _____?

Me: Jamal… (I’m being all stern, but he’s winning. And he knows it.)

Jamal: I just called (he’s singing, y’all…he’s singing)….*slowly rises from his seat and fully extends his arm out to me*….to say, I love youuuuuuuu.

The class erupts in laughter and applause, which fuels Jamal’s fire. His smirk has been growing, and now it’s a full-on grin.

I’m screwing up my face, trying So. Fucking. Hard. To keep a straight face and not burst out laughing. But I suck at that. They know it, too. I like them too much.

Jamal: And I mean it…from the bottom…of myyyy hearrrrrrt.

And then I lost it. I’m simultaneously laughing and crying, doubled over and shaking my head. The class has lost it, too.

“Oh no he didn’t!”
“Jamal! You better sit yo ass down!”
“Jamal! You made her cry!”
“Naw, she laughin’!”
“Boy you ain’t no Stevie Wonder! Sit DOWN!”
“Shhhh SHHHHHHH she’s gonna get us!”
“Boy if you make us lose party points, I’m whoopin’ yo ass after school!”

Meanwhile, he’s gotten up from his desk and moved toward the front of the class to continue his crooning. Then he hugs me.

~

It all happened really fast, and it took a few minutes for everything to calm down and get back to lessons. But everyone’s mood improved beyond that point. (Hell, the fact that they knew Stevie Wonder was a marvel in itself.) Yes, Jamal and I had our umpteenth talk about appropriate classroom behavior. And yes, I had to give him a mark on his conduct, because if you don’t stick to your classroom rules, the kids own you. And once that happens, good luck reverting the classroom dynamics.

Anyway. He told me I looked sad. And he knew I was mad at them for being intentionally difficult that day. And he said, “Ms ____, when you upset, we all upset. I had to fix it.”

This little boy, written off by so many because “he’s ghetto” made such an impact on me that I will never forget him. I’m tearing up now, just thinking about him. He’s one of the ones that my principal – I wish I were joking – said “we just holdin’ ’em for prison. Stop tryin’ so hard. He ghetto. They all ghetto.”

Fuck you, bitch. He’s not ghetto. He’s human. He’s a little boy who the universe won’t stop shitting on, and he needs his fellow humans to love him. To show him it’s not all a worthless pile of shit. To show him he’s not a worthless pile of shit.

~

And you know what happens when we do that? When we teach them love and respect?

They sing.

~

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41 thoughts on “I Just Called to Say…Oh No He Didn’t!

  1. By far, the best thing I’ve read today! I loved this and as a teacher, I especially loved this.

    I always have a soft spot for the rough diamonds, odd bods and general underdogs in the classroom. I’ve taught many a ‘Jamal’ but two stick out, both called Alfie, and I absolutely adore them. Angry kids, annoying but full of sassy cheek and could charm water out of a camel (that’s a thing, I’m sure!).

    One of them still attends the school and when he left my class last summer, he completely broke down because he couldn’t afford me a present. So he offered a hug instead. Broke. My. Heart.

    He gets away with bloody murder with me and he knows it, but he also knows when to reign it in – he knows I’ve got his back so he behaves (as well as he can manage!) for me. And I love him for it πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, yes, yes! You totally get it…and I totally get you. Thank you…thank you for sharing and for the superkind thing you said to me. πŸ™‚

      I would have loved your Alfies, and I know you’d have loved my Jamal. Underdogs are the best…they know how to fight for it. And the sass and cheek! Love love it!

      Hugs…are always the best presents. Hugs and the little handmade cards and drawings. I have a box of them that I cherish so much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, the handmade gifts. I have a similar box. And when a tough kids calls you ‘mom’ – that’s pretty cute too. I’d take one of these kids over a fussy, prissy pants any day!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to teach at a local alternative alternative school here in Waco, and I was always blown away by the students’ intelligence (even the ones–perhaps especially the ones–in the SpecEd classroom I supervised). I loved the twinkle behind the eyes right before some sort of mischief went down, probably because I’ve spent most of my life sporting the same twinkle in my own eyes. They frustrated the crap out of me, but I thought the world of them nevertheless.

    I taught there 2004-2006, and since then at least two of those students have been killed and more have gone to jail as adults. That hurts. It hurt then, to see the way so many of the teachers around me dismissed them as viable citizens. This is an excellent post. There should be more teachers like you. :0)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you..thank you so very much. It’s always a pleasure to meet other like-minded people, particularly when it pertains to something so important.

      I wish I could say I had the strength to withstand the politics of at-risk school districts, but I didn’t. The politics destroyed me… I still think about working with kids. Just not in a classroom, with all the effing red tape.

      It’s tough, isn’t it? Knowing what’s in store for them. Seeing what happened to them? I’ve looked a few of mine up, from when I taught, and they’re at the age now where anything “bad” they do is gonna stick. I’ve tried to stop looking…but it’s hard when you love them so much.

      Like

      1. Since I live in Waco still, I don’t generally have to look the students up. They’re on the news (in the case of one of the ones who was killed, in a major way). I hate seeing those stories.

        On the other hand, I ran into another of my students working at a local fast foodery a little while ago. If he remembered me, he didn’t show it. But it was nice to see him doing well. I guess there’s a good story for every bad one; the good ones just don’t show up on the 6:00…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Bleh. I’m so sorry. I don’t live in the same town where I taught. It’s relatively close, but not so close that I run into anyone from those days. Which…as you’ve expressed…is good and bad. Because, while I miss out on the positive updates, at least I don’t have to see them in the news – unless, of course, I seek it out.

        Like

  3. That is a great, great story…which includes a reference to the one Stevie Wonder song that I like the least. Notice I did not say hate. I said like the least. And it was a #1 smash. Of course he had many of those, he’s Stevie Wonder, after all.

    But the story here is more important than my minimized like of the Stevie song. If more people cared more about those kids like Jamal, they would have a better chance at overcoming those obstacles they face every day. Between this post, and the ESPN story about the kids in the Chicago school that loved Auburn University and got to go down to Alabama to watch an Auburn football game, the living room of my apartment is getting mighty dusty…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this. And I do agree with you about the song – it’s not one of his tops for me, either. Well, it wasn’t until that day in the classroom. That made a mediocre song a treasure to me.

      Oh. And. I’d be happy to lend you my broom. You know. For the dust. πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved the kids to no end. But I wasn’t prepared for the politics of teaching in an at-risk district. One step forward, two steps back. I had twelve and thirteen-year-olds in there, reading on a first grade level. Principal refusing free after-school tutoring. Blatant cheating on state exams. Favoritism. The politics killed me…honestly, I had a nervous breakdown. Not sure I’ve admitted that before. But I barely functioned for months after I resigned.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The politics of teaching is what will drive the only good remaining teachers out of the profession. Many of my friends are hitting the 7 year mark and saying, “Fuck this.” Not because of the kids, but the political bullshit. It’s the biggest shame there is.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It really is. It angers and disgusts me to a degree that only people such as yourself and others who’ve been through it can understand. The teachers were dropping like flies when I resigned. The only ones left were the ones who didn’t give a shit and would march to any beat they were ordered to. Bleh. It’s heartbreaking how the kids are being fucked over.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’m back in an office environment now, similar to what I did before I taught. And yeah, it’s not very stressful – in comparison – but it’s also not rewarding or fulfilling. I wonder every day what I’m doing there.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s too bad everyone doesn’t get a chance to teach. I’m not saying all the time – kids need structure by a trained pro. But I’ve had a bit of time in the classroom, and kids always – always surprise you. I think a lot of adults would be better people if they had to get in there and deal with them, face to face.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. WTF? I don’t even know you & I feel like you’re my sister?! OMG….you just moved me….tears in my eyes. You my dear are precious! Hugs….we’re going to be close bloggers chic. I can feel it. (Not a stalker. Just a fan)

    Liked by 1 person

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