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.
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 wanted 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.
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?