I remember it like it was yesterday.
But thankfully it was seven years ago.
I had moved into my new classroom at the senior campus. I was to teach five periods of English 11. It was maybe the fifth day of school and I had just had a broken back molar removed, so I had missed a day and when I returned, it was with a puffy face.
That was fun.
Anyway, I’d made it through the whole day and was looking forward to it being over. It was 7th period. We were reviewing literary terms (gosh, that was super boring. We don’t do that anymore).
Over to my left I heard a little kerfuffle happening. Nothing loud or elaborate, just something. I ignored it for a minute, hoping it would sort itself out.
The rest happened in slow motion and it’s a little fuzzy, despite me being able to picture it all in sequence.
There sitting in her desk is Whitney, an African American girl who looks beyond mad. Behind her sits Johnny, a large white (for lack of a better descriptor) “good ol’ boy”. His feet were on the basket under her chair (who ever thought those were a good idea?!?) and she said, “boooy, you better stop shaking my chair.”
I glance over and assume (because I was clearly very naive) that he would stop.
Before I could even get involved, she whipped around and slapped him across the face. I was stunned. I stood there for a beat thinking what the hell am I supposed to do now?! while Whitney sat there shaking, mumbling about how she told him to stop and how he’d been messing with her all day.
I remember saying “are you kidding me right now? It’s the fifth day of school.”
And then I finally burst into action.
“Q, come up here and continue this lesson please”, I said calmly to a hilarious, yet relatively studious, student in the back. He proceeded to the front of the room, while I pointed at Whitney and said “you, hallway please” and at Johnny, “you, stay there and don’t move”.
Meanwhile Whitney is still talking. So, Johnny, being such a delight says, “You better shut the f*** up.”
Believe it or not, I did not lose my cool. My mouth might have hung open for a split second, but I followed Whitney out the door and hit the call button on my way. I glanced in the classroom. The kids were stunned but mostly paying attention as Q led them through the powerpoint (seriously, so freaking boring. I’m embarrassed to admit we were doing that).
Meanwhile, in the hallway I had a great talk with Whitney. We discussed what had been happening all day, how he’d been sort of bullying her, but also how hitting was usually not the best route for resolving problems. I encouraged her to go for a little walk around the hall while we waited for the administrator.
I went back in the classroom and got back to reviewing. I basically acted as though nothing had happened. A minute or two later I saw the principal outside, so again I passed the lesson over and headed out the door. I recounted the whole ordeal and pointed out the offender inside. Needless to say, he was not surprised to see who the instigator was.
He took Johnny, I returned to teaching, and half an hour later class and the day ended. I held it all together until the last kid left, then I sprinted next door to relive the experience with my friend and neighbor, Emily.
As the year went on, 7th period became my favorite class. Despite many attempts to connect with Johnny, we never did click. He ended up leaving about halfway through the year. Whitney and I became very close, and she came to visit as a senior quite often.
At the end of the year, when we’d all become very comfortable with each other, the kids said “Hey Ms. Kruse, remember that time Whitney hit that kid? You were so calm–it was freaky.” And then we all died laughing.
Thankfully, nothing that ridiculous has happened in my classroom since (knock on wood), but I think it’s funny how even those terrible situations can actually bring a class closer together. The kids saw my reaction and learned a lot about me from it. They understood that a) I wasn’t going to tolerate that kind of nonsense, and b) I wasn’t going to freak out about stuff. I feel like there’s a lot to be said for that.
So, here’s to another year–hopefully an uneventful one!