Middle School Madness
As stated in my previous piece, my high school imploded, sending many teachers across the district. I ended up at a middle school in Dorchester. The good news was that the school was closer to my home. The bad news was that I would be teaching 6th grade.
Now, I’ve had experience teaching middle schoolers from some summer programs I’d worked in over the years. Usually, the program was already set up by the site director and the curriculum was easy to follow. I remember a few summers I taught math and the experience made me understand math better, Overall, interactions with the kids during the summer were a good mix of academic and enrichment activities.
While there were some students who were a challenge during the summer, we had plenty of backup from staff and parents. It was zero tolerance during the summer. I had a teaching assistant and other staff members work with the kids. Those were halcyon days of laughter and learning. Unfortunately, that was not the case at my new school.
In my first year, I was placed in the specialty wing. This was where the students would come down to have enrichment activities in art, theater, woodworking, health, and music. It was a nightmare during the transition periods. I would be trying to teach and hundreds of students would be outside my door headed for their specialties.
Once the transition was over, the next issue would be the music class. Their room was direct across from mine. The music teacher would either have the students playing instruments or practicing a chorus. The singing was often less than desired. Off-key was an understatement.
I taught two 6th grade classes. It was an eclectic mix of students on track for exam school and students who were on track for expulsion. The exam school-bound students were never a problem. They were friendly, polite, and always did their assignments. The other students were belligerent, rude, and always on their cell phones.
There was one student, let’s call her Lisa, who was the leader of the brat pack. Lisa was smart. But instead of using her brains for good, she was always scheming, lying, and thieving. Lisa was also street smart and used her hood knowledge to trick the more naive students. And if Lisa didn’t get her way there would be hell to pay.
One time, Lisa wanted something from a classmate, a boy about half her size. Let’s call him Julio. He was a cute boy who could have easily passed for a third-grader rather than a 6th grader. Anyway, Julio didn’t give Lisa what she wanted (the details I don’t remember). But from what I learned from the other students, Lisa grabbed Julio by his hair and dragged him down the hallway. From what I heard, Julio was screaming and crying throughout the entire ordeal until he was rescued by another staff member.
Yes, Lisa was about that life! She was constantly getting into arguments and/or fights with other students. Lisa wasn’t afraid to challenge adults either. I remember one time when the vice principal visited my classroom to observe and made a comment to Lisa. That definitely set Lisa off. She starts arguing back and forth with the vice principal like she’s just as grown as her!
So, most of that first year was dealing with Lisa's shenanigans and the rest of the brat pack. There was Gigi (not her name), Leon (not his name), and Jeffrey (not his name). There was also Margo and Eva (we’ll get to them in a bit). Gigi was the second in command of the brat pack. She and Lisa were friends. They were often causing issues together.
Gigi wasn’t a fighter like Lisa, but she had the mouth to match. She was quick with her words and loved getting into it with adults. Once, Gigi and Lisa made the cafeteria ladies so mad that one of them called the girls, “bitches.” Of course, the girls told the administrator and acted as if they were the victims. But I could tell they had left out key details of the story.
Leon was Lisa’s boyfriend. He was a smart boy who also had exam school potential. Alas, he would rather get into mischief than focus on his studies. And when he wasn’t getting into stuff, he was led around by the nose by Lisa. Once, he stole money from his father (around $200) and gave it to Lisa as a token of his affection. His father came up to the school ready to hand Leon’s ass to him. I was mad, too! You don’t steal from your parents and $200 was nothing to sneeze at. That’s groceries or a light bill. Leon was able to retrieve some of the money from Lisa who had no sympathy for Leon’s plight. “He gave it to me,” I recall her saying. But you had no problem taking it.
Jeffrey was a boy who was the same height as Julio but had a totally different demeanor. He was like night and day. One minute he would give me a fake plant as a teacher appreciation gift ( I still have it) and the next minute, he would pick up his desk and hit me with it. One minute he would be quiet and focused on his work, the next minute he would be cursing up a storm, disrupting the entire class. Jeffrey was always getting into trouble throughout the building. His mother was often called. But she was problematic as well.
One time, during a team meeting, the mother arrived to pick up Jeffrey and walked in on our meeting. The vice principal was hot on her heels, trying to get her to go back to the main office. Jeffrey’s mother started yelling at all of us then she glared at me, accusing me of causing problems for her son. I didn’t know what she meant. I recalled reporting to the administration that Jeffrey’s clothing and backpack smelled strongly of weed. I guess the mother didn’t want people to know that her son smelled like a dispensary.
This story is just a small sample of what I endured during my middle school years. Stay tuned for the next piece!