I am an English teacher in an urban school with a diverse population of students who are, for the most part, really terrific. I love my job even though I have been known to complain. But, I complain because, you know, it’s WORK and that sometimes just sucks because it is, you know, WORK.
I am a mom, too. This should come to no surprise to you, the person who is reading an entry on a blog titled “Off Duty Mom.”
But, my kids are still pretty small. My oldest is in Kindergarten. So, while I work daily (and have for hmfhmghph years) with teenagers (and, yes, actually enjoy the company of teenagers), I haven’t had the privilege yet of raising any teens of my own.
And, you’d be surprised the shit I hear as your teenager’s English teacher. You’d be disgusted, embarrassed, shocked, terrified, enraged, and/or more than mildly amused at the things I both overhear and am told absolutely directly.
Here are just a few of the things I have dealt with in my time in this line of work:
*A sophomore student was once so high, she couldn’t spell her own name right. I sent her to the nurse since that is our protocol when we suspect drug use. She was back in my classroom a few minutes later because the nurse could not determine the cause of the student’s unusual behavior. She then bragged (supposedly) out of my earshot about how much weed she had run through that morning.
*A group of 18-year old students had never heard of the Beatles. Or Tupac.
*Last week I tried to get a 14-year old male student to stop cutting himself. Last Thursday, he e-mailed me at 12:30 am apologizing for not being able to keep this promise. He was treated at a nearby hospital for his self-inflicted injuries.
*For the past two months, a 9th grade boy I know who is a fabulously top-notch student has been dating one of the worst human beings imaginable. He is an athlete, he’s well-liked, he is a straight-A student. He is articulate and personable and handsome. His girlfriend and her mother have been taken to court twice for the girl’s truancy. She has failed every single one of her classes every quarter since the beginning of the year. When she is in school, she does very little actual work and mostly just casts her head downward, looking at teachers and classmates above imaginary glasses the way a Bond villain might. I can’t tell this boy’s mother that his girlfriend is a bad influence because this would be considered inappropriate and a breach of the girl’s confidentiality.
*A Freshman boy asked me why everyone was so sad in the 20th century. He was referring to the Great Depression, I figured out from talking with him for a few minutes.
*A 15-year old boy today just proudly announced that he was off his ADD meds. The class looked at him, puzzled. He, I think, was hoping for applause.
*A 16-year old boy has been confiding in me for months that his alcoholic mother physically abuses him and his father (the parents are separated) steals from him. Yes, I have notified my superiors. The boy and his family have been to court. The courts have found that the boy is in a “safe” environment. Since the abuse and thefts have started, the boy has been arrested 5 times for lashing out at others violently. No one gives a shit if I think that this is a behavior he learned from his mother who beats the living crap out of him when she’s on the bottle.
*I suspect that a student of mine is on the Autism spectrum. I cannot suggest this to her parents as I am not a certified medical practitioner and cannot legally make any determination or even suggestion about her health. I referred her to a guidance counselor for evaluation, but because the young lady was already being tutored, the parents chalked up her bad grades to a basic need to step up her tutoring and denied any further evaluations.
*A 9th grade student asked me if the book we were reading took place in the time of slavery. It was set in the 1950s.
*After spending 25 minutes explaining a research paper assignment in class one day, a student raised his hand and then asked me, what are we doing today? Ummm… WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER?!?!?
*Today a teenage boy wrote his name on a paper to sign up to do a presentation for the class. He listed only his first name and his last initial. The “period” used to denote his initial was placed before, not after that letter.
*A senior student who was a “person of interest” in a crime that involved a throat-slashing sat in the front row of my class a few years back. For legal reasons, my administration was not permitted to let me know that this young man may have been involved in this attempted murder. When I found out about it from a colleague who had a relative in the police force, I could not share the information with anyone, either. She was risking her job secretly warning me.
*Three students in my career have “come out” to me privately. Since they were not a threat to themselves or others, I was not permitted to share this information with their families or friends, but was allowed to share it with the guidance counselor if that seemed appropriate. She couldn’t share it with their families or friends, either, though. Ordinarily, I would say that this type of privacy is a necessary thing, but when a mother called me crying about her son needing psychological care, I had to pretend that I knew nothing and couldn’t let her know that he wasn’t likely suffering from a serious disorder, but was simply gay and didn’t know how to talk to her about it. She had him go through in-patient therapy and the doctors eventually determined that this was, of course, a complete waste of time and energy, as even the boy had insisted. He wasn’t depressed as she had insisted he was. His doctor finally “outed” the kid to his mom. They no longer speak.
*A significantly troubled Autistic teen openly masturbated once in class. The girl sitting next to him was obviously fairly traumatized. The other students went through varying degrees of freaking-the-fuck-out depending on how much they saw/heard. Teachers were not permitted to discuss the situation with the parents of these children other than to tell them that an “incident” had happened and that it was being “handled.”
*A 10th grader did not know that the following countries existed: Trinidad, Austria, New Zealand and Tibet.
*An 11th grader did not know that Canada was in North America or that Hawaii was a state.
*Most of my students are shocked to learn that I read books before I teach them. The vast majority are downright shocked when I tell them that I read most books I teach more than once.
*(I think) I talked a 16-year old out of quitting school last week.
*Today a student asked me if the bike I rode as a kid had one giant wheel on the front and a little one in the back.
*There is a student in my school who is severely depressed, but we are not supposed to know about it. He only showers maybe a few times each month. If we’re lucky. We are not supposed to discuss this issue with him or with his family. We are not supposed to make contact with Social Services. We can only notify and re-notify our guidance department.
*I suspect a student is dyslexic. I am not allowed to say that to her parents, though, because my degrees do not include School Psychology or an associated field, nor have I administered any diagnostic exams to suggest that she has a Learning Disability. I can refer her generically to our Special Education Department and/or our Guidance or Social Work Departments, but if the parent calls me directly and asks me what I think her child’s problem is, I am not allowed to say.
*A parent called me to ask my opinion on a new girl who has been calling and texting her son. I cannot tell her that this girl is a whore. No, really. She was cited for accepting payment in the form of designer accessories for offering blowjobs to fellow students in school. I have to let this mother fly blind on this one.
All of the world’s secrets are safe with me. Some should be. Some are awfully damn hard to keep.
What do you think about all of this?