The You-Need-To-Care Moment

18 Apr

Some jobs make you want to drink. Others make you want to jump off a cliff. This one made me want to do both.

Middle School Substitute Teacher. It’s the worst job I’ve ever had. It was supposed to be one of those transition jobs, but it never ended. I met all kinds on this gig. But most of my time was spent with hostile teenagers who constantly used profanity and avoided classwork and homework at all costs. They mastered the eye-roll and the smacking of the lips, most of the time accompanied with sarcasm.

I often wondered, what’s up with your parents? Do they even care? I got the response when I met Crystal’s mom.

Crystal was a piece of work. I often filled in for this teacher and most of her classes were filled with tough kids here and there. And most of the time I got comments like, how come you never smile? I was pretty much all business when I was in classroom. I wasn’t the I’m-your-friend kind of teacher. I didn’t need 13-year old friends, especially someone of Crystal’s caliber.

Social Studies classroom at Port Charlotte Hig...

Classroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During our reading comprehension part of the class, Crystal made it a point not to comprehend. I used to give kids three chances — three check marks next to their names — three opportunities to correct themselves before handing out detention, campus beautification, dean’s office referrals, or parent communication. They knew it. They were well-informed. Most kids stopped acting up after the first check mark and campus beautification. They hated cleaning up other kids’ trash. But Crystal was different.

As I explained the assignment for the third time, to make sure every one understood, I see Crystal smacking her gum, like a cow chewing grass. What’s up with kids and gum? I wasn’t a fan of gum, neither was her regular teacher. She knew it. The whole class knew it. So I didn’t understand why she was confused about the rule.

After giving me attitude and a sassy remark, she spit it out. Then came the I’m-not-going-to-do-the-stupid-assignment attitude.

After telling her to start the assignment for the fifth time, I switched her seat so that she wouldn’t distract others. She continued her lackluster effort of paying attention and decided to listen to music.

I took her headphones away and said she could have them back when she finished.

“I don’t care, keep them. I have another pair.”

“Don’t use them here, or I’ll take them away and give you campus beautification.”

“I don’t care, give me campus beautification.”

“I don’t understand, if you don’t want to do the work, don’t come to school. If you want to listen to music stay at home. Just don’t come to school then, because I expect you to do the work. If you don’t do the work you’ll get campus beautification. You’re not just going to sit there and absorb electricity.”

“I don’t care.”

“Oh. You don’t care, do you? That’s one check.”

“I don’t care.”

“Fine you have campus beautification for two days.”

“So what. It’s not like I’m gonna do it.”

“If you don’t do your punishment, you’ll get after-school detention two days.”

“I don’t care.”

“I don’t like your attitude, or your disrespect. That’s two checks for you. If you choose not to do your work or your punishments, there will be consequences.”

“I don’t care. I don’t care about your !#*&@^! consequences or your stupid check marks.”

The class is silent. Waiting on me and my reaction. I was so irritated by this kid. I was done.

“You know what, I’m not even gonna bother sending you to the Dean’s Office. I’m just gonna call your parents myself.”

“I don’t care go ahead.”

Calling parents usually got some kids to shut up and do their work. Some parents actually did some parenting and consequences were involved. Others, well … they needed some assistance. Some sort of intervention miracle.

I don’t know what kind of parents Crystal had, but I was hoping to find out. I wondered if they tolerated Crystal’s eye-roll, the flicking of her fingernails with the other fingernail, and the smacking of the lips, followed by the ever so famous teenager exasperated sigh.

After another thirty minutes of her attitude the bell rang. She collected her books and waited. Most kids tend to bolt as soon as the bell rings, so I often made it a point to hang on to their backpacks until I make the phone call.

I dial the number on file. Disconnected. I dial the emergency contact. The number is no longer in service. She smiles.

I pick up her backpack and have her follow me to the attendance office. There has to be someone, some adult, some relative that can scare her straight. She’s strutting down the hall without a care in the world. All I can think of  was I’m never going to reach anybody related to her, and it’s too early to be pissed off because of some bratty kid. But there I was, frustrated and irritated by a disrespectful sixth grader. Yeah she was in the sixth grade.

As I walk into the attendance office with miserable hopes of getting anything resolved, I run into her mother.

Duuuuuuuuuuuude. Sweet.

I smile and look at the mom.

“I was just on my way here to get your number. Apparently Crystal does not know how to reach you. So we had to make a trip over to the attendance office.”

“I was just here to pick her up early.”

“Well, I’m glad I caught you then. I wanted to speak with you about Crystal’s disrespectful attitude and defiance …”

I explained the events as they occurred and mentioned my three-checks system and the opportunities I gave Crystal to correct her behavior. I looked at the mom:

“All she kept saying was that she didn’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. When I told her I was going to call you, she said I don’t care.”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the mother raised her hand and … SLAP!!!

“YOU NEED TO CARE!”

All I saw was Crystal’s hair flying wildly to the left as her head turned.

The entire attendance office staff was silent. The students sitting in the waiting area froze. The parents picking up their kids mouthed the word “Ooooooh.”

 Crystal definitely cared the next day.

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4 Responses to “The You-Need-To-Care Moment”

  1. adinparadise April 19, 2012 at 10:09 PM #

    I really don’t envy teachers today. I’ve had to deal with some kids with attitude over the years, and found it very challenging. Obviously Crystal and her mother have an understanding, but it doesn’t sound like a happy family at all.

  2. L. May 8, 2012 at 9:51 PM #

    Thank you for writing this. I love this story. I never get tired of hearing it.. Thank you for putting it out there!

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