Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gay is the New Black

I saw in my peripheral vision something fly across the classroom, hit the trash can, and knock it over, spilling trash across the floor. "Damn it," I thought mid-lecture, "why do they always have to do that shit? When will they freaking grow up?" I was lucky I didn't say that sentence out loud because that would've made twice in two weeks I would have cursed in class.

The first time happened last Monday when two 18 year olds were playing grab ass- as in slapping at each other, calling each other names, and trying to take each other's pens. They were doing this as I was giving directions on appropriate behavior in an assembly - the one we were about to attend. My actual words were, as I pointed in the air, at their behavior, "OK, that shit can't happen. It has to stop. NOW." Immediately they tried to escalate the situation by saying, "You can't say that to us. You don't have the right and we weren't doing anything wrong." What they don't know is they got the nice version of what I really wanted to say which was far more brutal and inappropriate. But I backed down. They were right. I shouldn't have cursed. But I was right, too. They shouldn't have taken me to that level of frustration.

Needless to say, my blood pressure has been a bit elevated lately, so when I saw the object- which I later learned was a water bottle- fly across the room and the trash strewn across the floor, I was pissed. I was acutely cognizant of what my reaction should be seeing as it was being monitored by 25 people who were waiting for a theatrical temper tantrum. So as not to give in, I calmly asked the kid to pick up the trash and then stay after class to pick up the rest of the room. My tone was measured. I tried to remember that I like the kid and anyway we had eight weeks left to survive each other. I took a breath, proud that I hadn't lost it, and continued with my lecture. I noticed that there were some whispers in that area of the room, so I raised my voice over them, as usual, and tried to finish out the class without losing my temper.

When the bell rang, I reminded the offender that he needed to stay after and pick up. He was shaking. He said, "Mrs. Haag. I don't know if I should say anything or not because it's all stupid high school drama, but you should know that if the girl sitting next to me were a boy, I would've punched her in the fucking face! I mean it. And I apologize for throwing the water bottle and for knocking over the trash. It wasn't the right thing to do. But it kept me from hitting her. And I really wanted to fucking hit her!"

"OK." I said as calmly as I could, "I appreciate that you're apologizing to me, but what exactly is going on?"

"Look," he said, "I'm friends with John (who sits behind him in class) and you know he's gay. I don't care about that. I like him. We're friends and we hang out outside of school sometimes and it's fine because we're friends and I don't care what people say about it. "

"That's great," I said. "So, what's the issue?"

"I mostly don't care what people say. But they get mean, and take it too far. They all joke that I want to bang him and stuff. Whatever. That's stupid. They can make fun of me all they want, but today that girl crossed a line. She started drawing pictures of me banging him. She wouldn't shut up, calling me a faggot fucker and stuff. I lost it, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have thrown the water, but I had had enough."

I paused to get my brain wrapped around the enormity of what he was saying. All that came out was,"I'm sorry." And I was. In the second it took for me to process, I realized I was sorry - sorry that I didn't hear the conversation or catch the girl drawing the pictures; sorry that I punished the reaction, rather than catching the real deviant; sorry that John was sitting next to the girl, knowing what the joke was, but allowing it to happen because in our society it is OK to make fun of gay people. It's just another day for him. I was really sorry. And then I was sick.

I collected myself and continued, "It's not OK, the way she treated you, or how any of the others treat you regarding John. You're a really good person to still be his friend and hang out with him anyway. Tell her next time that it's not OK." In my anger, I said something I shouldn't have, but that I still think was necessary to the point. I said, "Tell her to replace the word "faggot" with "nigger" to show her how absolutely WRONG it is to be so racist/sexist! Ask her if she would ever say 'nigger fucker,' that of course she wouldn't because she learned a long time ago that saying such racist, hateful things is not OK. Tell her that saying "faggot fucker" is just as wrong, and hopefully she'll think about it next time. It's ignorant."

We both calmed down, and he apologized again and then went to his next class.

That would be the end of the story, except that there has to be a "now what" on my part. And really. Now what? What is my responsibility with this? What is the follow up action? I have eight weeks left with these kids. It is times like these when writing papers and reading novels seems ridiculous in the face of all the other things they need to learn - like tolerance, for example. I hate the word tolerance because there is a connotation that one is "putting up with" people who are different, tolerating them. Really what I want to teach them is how to love people and their differences.

But I'll settle for tolerance.

12 comments:

Kathy B! said...

I say, try to catch these kids doing something inappropriate so you have justification to deal with what's going on in an open and direct manner.

It breaks my heart to hear this, and it's soooo not okay. The kids are lucky to have someone who still cares as much as you do.

KiKi said...

Wow...this is an incredible story! I really think you handled it so well, too. I don't know how you do it! Unbelievable, whippersnappers these days!

tara said...

You definitely handled it well. I say all the time that I have no idea how teachers handle kids these days. When I was a kid we were afraid of our teachers, and our parents. I would never have dreamed of saying "You can't say that to me" to any adult, let alone my teachers.

I don't know what your responsibility here is. Is there a way to open a conversation about it without getting fired? Is there a way to get the kids talking? Or is it really just high school bullshit? When I was in HS people got picked on. Anything that is different is feared, and we just had to live through HS, basically. Is this the same sort of situation, or do you really feel like it's an issue that needs addressing?

I really wished we lived closer to each other so we could have a cup of tea and talk things like this over. I would really love that.

Ms Cupcake said...

Howdy sitsta! Happy Wednesday. Checking in on Hump Day. Tonight begins Passover. Only 4 days until Easter. Celebrate!
Zen Cupcake

Ronnica said...

Wow...kids today have so much more to deal with, huh?

Amy said...

Wow things sure have changed since we went to high school. That student you have is wonderful. He sticks up for what he feels is right. He is smart and does not let what others think bother him too much. He could just go right along and be rude to the other student. But no they are friends. I think you did a wonderful job talking with him. He knows you now understand what happen and took the time to listen. You chose to listen to him. Not many teachers will do that. Yeah to you. Now that it has happened of course you can not go back to it. But maybe you could find a way to teach it in a lesson. Like writing something about how someone changed your life or stood up for you. I am glad you are a teacher to these students.
Have a great day. Jack is so lucky to have you as a Mom he is going to be such a great man someday.

Pete the Brit said...

Holy crap Ginger, I don't know how you have the stamina to deal with such bull on a regular basis!

You handled this so well!!!!!

Ginger said...

Kathy - I do my best, but it's nearly impossible to catch the bad stuff, and when I do, it is infinitely more difficult to deal with, officially. It breaks my heart, too, and youre nice to be so encouraging. Only 8 weeks left..

Kiki - Thanks for coming by! It's funny that you said "whippersnappers". I often do feel old, though I'm only 33. But the years the kids and me make SUCH a difference! Mostly. Today they thought it was funny that one of our vocabulary root words was "jug", and that the example of the root in a word was "conjugal". They giggled all at the same time, and when all the laughter subsided, I was the one still giggling.

Tara - Yes. Tea would be nice. It's cool to be connected to a twin spirit! Thanks for being "on my side" and for the encouragement.

Hi Ms. Cupcake! I love your site! you make me need Obama peeps..

Ronnica - Yes!!! I think. Maybe we just supressed a bunch of it?

Amy - Man, You were there. I guess we probably knew more about each other in junior high, but we sure did go through a lot together!

P-ta - This week I'm not handling all of it very well. May this serve as an example to all who are considering entering the teaching field.. (ahem). Love you both.

Kristy said...

Ms. Haag,

I feel kind of weird commenting on your blog because I haven't talked to you in forever (not to mention I'm sure you have some stories about how I personally made your job hard when I was your student!). However, I couldn't locate your email address on the AHS website, & I wanted to ask if it would be okay for me to list you as a reference. I'm trying to find an internship for the summer, & I think my LitMag experience could come in handy.

-kristy fullerton (class of '07)

fullertk@reed.edu

P.S. Thank you for caring about your students as people. Another teacher would have easily dismissed the kid's attempt to explain what had happened with an I-don't-care-about-what-she-was-doing-This-is-about-your-behavior & never even found out about the incident (let alone offer advice).

Jen said...

I know I say this all the time but honestly I don't know how you do High School!! 5th graders are tough enough! As the year continues they are really testing my patients!

I agree with what the others have said, you handled the situation beautifully! Kids really do deal with a lot of crap these days! I definitely think you should tie tolerance into a lesson!! These next 8 weeks might be the only chance they get to hear such words!

I admire you and your students are SO lucky to have you as their teacher!!

Pam said...

Oh dear! What a sticky situation. I feel so badly for John and his friend. What a difficult postion to be in - for all of you. I give the water bottle thrower a ton of credit for remaining friends with John considering the pressure he's under. Could you talk to the girl privately, telling her you know what happened? She definitely needs a good talking to. Good luck!

Raylene said...

Oh Ginger! You write so beautifully and you capture that age old theme "man's inhumanity to man." I think I have sadly come to the realization that caring because we are human; kindness because we are all one can rarely be taught to those whose minds have been closed for eighteen years. I hope I am wrong!

Raylene

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gay is the New Black

I saw in my peripheral vision something fly across the classroom, hit the trash can, and knock it over, spilling trash across the floor. "Damn it," I thought mid-lecture, "why do they always have to do that shit? When will they freaking grow up?" I was lucky I didn't say that sentence out loud because that would've made twice in two weeks I would have cursed in class.

The first time happened last Monday when two 18 year olds were playing grab ass- as in slapping at each other, calling each other names, and trying to take each other's pens. They were doing this as I was giving directions on appropriate behavior in an assembly - the one we were about to attend. My actual words were, as I pointed in the air, at their behavior, "OK, that shit can't happen. It has to stop. NOW." Immediately they tried to escalate the situation by saying, "You can't say that to us. You don't have the right and we weren't doing anything wrong." What they don't know is they got the nice version of what I really wanted to say which was far more brutal and inappropriate. But I backed down. They were right. I shouldn't have cursed. But I was right, too. They shouldn't have taken me to that level of frustration.

Needless to say, my blood pressure has been a bit elevated lately, so when I saw the object- which I later learned was a water bottle- fly across the room and the trash strewn across the floor, I was pissed. I was acutely cognizant of what my reaction should be seeing as it was being monitored by 25 people who were waiting for a theatrical temper tantrum. So as not to give in, I calmly asked the kid to pick up the trash and then stay after class to pick up the rest of the room. My tone was measured. I tried to remember that I like the kid and anyway we had eight weeks left to survive each other. I took a breath, proud that I hadn't lost it, and continued with my lecture. I noticed that there were some whispers in that area of the room, so I raised my voice over them, as usual, and tried to finish out the class without losing my temper.

When the bell rang, I reminded the offender that he needed to stay after and pick up. He was shaking. He said, "Mrs. Haag. I don't know if I should say anything or not because it's all stupid high school drama, but you should know that if the girl sitting next to me were a boy, I would've punched her in the fucking face! I mean it. And I apologize for throwing the water bottle and for knocking over the trash. It wasn't the right thing to do. But it kept me from hitting her. And I really wanted to fucking hit her!"

"OK." I said as calmly as I could, "I appreciate that you're apologizing to me, but what exactly is going on?"

"Look," he said, "I'm friends with John (who sits behind him in class) and you know he's gay. I don't care about that. I like him. We're friends and we hang out outside of school sometimes and it's fine because we're friends and I don't care what people say about it. "

"That's great," I said. "So, what's the issue?"

"I mostly don't care what people say. But they get mean, and take it too far. They all joke that I want to bang him and stuff. Whatever. That's stupid. They can make fun of me all they want, but today that girl crossed a line. She started drawing pictures of me banging him. She wouldn't shut up, calling me a faggot fucker and stuff. I lost it, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have thrown the water, but I had had enough."

I paused to get my brain wrapped around the enormity of what he was saying. All that came out was,"I'm sorry." And I was. In the second it took for me to process, I realized I was sorry - sorry that I didn't hear the conversation or catch the girl drawing the pictures; sorry that I punished the reaction, rather than catching the real deviant; sorry that John was sitting next to the girl, knowing what the joke was, but allowing it to happen because in our society it is OK to make fun of gay people. It's just another day for him. I was really sorry. And then I was sick.

I collected myself and continued, "It's not OK, the way she treated you, or how any of the others treat you regarding John. You're a really good person to still be his friend and hang out with him anyway. Tell her next time that it's not OK." In my anger, I said something I shouldn't have, but that I still think was necessary to the point. I said, "Tell her to replace the word "faggot" with "nigger" to show her how absolutely WRONG it is to be so racist/sexist! Ask her if she would ever say 'nigger fucker,' that of course she wouldn't because she learned a long time ago that saying such racist, hateful things is not OK. Tell her that saying "faggot fucker" is just as wrong, and hopefully she'll think about it next time. It's ignorant."

We both calmed down, and he apologized again and then went to his next class.

That would be the end of the story, except that there has to be a "now what" on my part. And really. Now what? What is my responsibility with this? What is the follow up action? I have eight weeks left with these kids. It is times like these when writing papers and reading novels seems ridiculous in the face of all the other things they need to learn - like tolerance, for example. I hate the word tolerance because there is a connotation that one is "putting up with" people who are different, tolerating them. Really what I want to teach them is how to love people and their differences.

But I'll settle for tolerance.

12 comments:

Kathy B! said...

I say, try to catch these kids doing something inappropriate so you have justification to deal with what's going on in an open and direct manner.

It breaks my heart to hear this, and it's soooo not okay. The kids are lucky to have someone who still cares as much as you do.

KiKi said...

Wow...this is an incredible story! I really think you handled it so well, too. I don't know how you do it! Unbelievable, whippersnappers these days!

tara said...

You definitely handled it well. I say all the time that I have no idea how teachers handle kids these days. When I was a kid we were afraid of our teachers, and our parents. I would never have dreamed of saying "You can't say that to me" to any adult, let alone my teachers.

I don't know what your responsibility here is. Is there a way to open a conversation about it without getting fired? Is there a way to get the kids talking? Or is it really just high school bullshit? When I was in HS people got picked on. Anything that is different is feared, and we just had to live through HS, basically. Is this the same sort of situation, or do you really feel like it's an issue that needs addressing?

I really wished we lived closer to each other so we could have a cup of tea and talk things like this over. I would really love that.

Ms Cupcake said...

Howdy sitsta! Happy Wednesday. Checking in on Hump Day. Tonight begins Passover. Only 4 days until Easter. Celebrate!
Zen Cupcake

Ronnica said...

Wow...kids today have so much more to deal with, huh?

Amy said...

Wow things sure have changed since we went to high school. That student you have is wonderful. He sticks up for what he feels is right. He is smart and does not let what others think bother him too much. He could just go right along and be rude to the other student. But no they are friends. I think you did a wonderful job talking with him. He knows you now understand what happen and took the time to listen. You chose to listen to him. Not many teachers will do that. Yeah to you. Now that it has happened of course you can not go back to it. But maybe you could find a way to teach it in a lesson. Like writing something about how someone changed your life or stood up for you. I am glad you are a teacher to these students.
Have a great day. Jack is so lucky to have you as a Mom he is going to be such a great man someday.

Pete the Brit said...

Holy crap Ginger, I don't know how you have the stamina to deal with such bull on a regular basis!

You handled this so well!!!!!

Ginger said...

Kathy - I do my best, but it's nearly impossible to catch the bad stuff, and when I do, it is infinitely more difficult to deal with, officially. It breaks my heart, too, and youre nice to be so encouraging. Only 8 weeks left..

Kiki - Thanks for coming by! It's funny that you said "whippersnappers". I often do feel old, though I'm only 33. But the years the kids and me make SUCH a difference! Mostly. Today they thought it was funny that one of our vocabulary root words was "jug", and that the example of the root in a word was "conjugal". They giggled all at the same time, and when all the laughter subsided, I was the one still giggling.

Tara - Yes. Tea would be nice. It's cool to be connected to a twin spirit! Thanks for being "on my side" and for the encouragement.

Hi Ms. Cupcake! I love your site! you make me need Obama peeps..

Ronnica - Yes!!! I think. Maybe we just supressed a bunch of it?

Amy - Man, You were there. I guess we probably knew more about each other in junior high, but we sure did go through a lot together!

P-ta - This week I'm not handling all of it very well. May this serve as an example to all who are considering entering the teaching field.. (ahem). Love you both.

Kristy said...

Ms. Haag,

I feel kind of weird commenting on your blog because I haven't talked to you in forever (not to mention I'm sure you have some stories about how I personally made your job hard when I was your student!). However, I couldn't locate your email address on the AHS website, & I wanted to ask if it would be okay for me to list you as a reference. I'm trying to find an internship for the summer, & I think my LitMag experience could come in handy.

-kristy fullerton (class of '07)

fullertk@reed.edu

P.S. Thank you for caring about your students as people. Another teacher would have easily dismissed the kid's attempt to explain what had happened with an I-don't-care-about-what-she-was-doing-This-is-about-your-behavior & never even found out about the incident (let alone offer advice).

Jen said...

I know I say this all the time but honestly I don't know how you do High School!! 5th graders are tough enough! As the year continues they are really testing my patients!

I agree with what the others have said, you handled the situation beautifully! Kids really do deal with a lot of crap these days! I definitely think you should tie tolerance into a lesson!! These next 8 weeks might be the only chance they get to hear such words!

I admire you and your students are SO lucky to have you as their teacher!!

Pam said...

Oh dear! What a sticky situation. I feel so badly for John and his friend. What a difficult postion to be in - for all of you. I give the water bottle thrower a ton of credit for remaining friends with John considering the pressure he's under. Could you talk to the girl privately, telling her you know what happened? She definitely needs a good talking to. Good luck!

Raylene said...

Oh Ginger! You write so beautifully and you capture that age old theme "man's inhumanity to man." I think I have sadly come to the realization that caring because we are human; kindness because we are all one can rarely be taught to those whose minds have been closed for eighteen years. I hope I am wrong!

Raylene