A Classroom full of flowers
Janice Anderson Connolly
On my first day of teaching, all my classes were going well. Being a teacher was going to be cinch, I decided. Then came Period 7, the last class of the day. As I walked toward the room, I heard furniture crash. Rounding the corner, I saw one boy pinning another to the floor. "Listen, you retard!" yelled the one on the bottom. "I don't give a damn about your sister!" "You keep your hands off her, you hear me?" the boy on top threatened. I drew up my short frame and asked them to stop fighting. Suddenly 14 pairs of eyes were riveted on my face. I knew I did not look convincing. Glaring at each other and me, the two boys slowly took their seats. At that moment, the teacher from across the hall stuck his head in the door and shouted at my students to sit down, shut up and do what I said. I was left feeling powerless. I tried to teach the lessons I had prepared, but was met with a sea of guarded faces. As the class was leaving, I detained the boy who had instigated the fight. I'll call him Mark. "Lady, don't waste your time," he told me. "We're the retards." Then Mark strolled out of the room. Dumbstruck, I slumped into my chair and wondered if I should have become a teacher. Was the only cure for problems like this to get out? I told myself I'd suffer for one year, and after my marriage that next summer I'd do something more rewarding. "They got to you, didn't they?" It was the colleague who had come into my classroom earlier. I nodded. "Don't worry," he said. "I taught many of them in summer school. There are only 14 of them, and most won't graduate anyway. Don't waste your time with those kids." "What do you mean?"
"They live in shacks in the fields. They're migratory labor, pickers' kids. They come to school only when they feel like it. The boy on the floor had pestered Mark's sister while they were picking beans together. I had to tell them to shut up at lunch today. Just keep them busy and quiet. If they...
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