reason to laugh
March 16, 2017
Today I chose to laugh. I did not feel like it. I would have, in fact, preferred to crumple into a weepy mess on the floor. But considering the circumstances of a classroom of 13-year-olds watching me, I managed to suck up my inclination in favor of a more productive response.
For some time now, I have lived in fear of a student—a middle schooler who has managed to hold an inordinate amount of power over me in the classroom. I had her for one semester last year, when I was struggling to figure out this classroom teacher business, and also battling significant dorm parent issues in the home, with a boarding kid who was also in this class. It was, quite simply, a daily nightmare.
As a result, I spent a large portion of last semester dreading this one, when that group would once more grace me with their classroom presence. The class is smaller this year, and only a handful of the same students from last year remain . . .but they are a powerful few, and I’m afraid I still dread each 80-minute block with them. To be fair, I have grown in my teacher identity since last year, and have learned some better classroom management skills for that age group. Some days I feel much better. But some days I don’t. Today I did not. Today the ringleader saw the opportunity to snag the upper hand and she took it. She also, I believe, was quite aware that she had control, as she is an extremely smart teen. I do not think that she is consciously out to spite me; rather, I suspect that she is hurting, in some form or fashion, and that she uses her influence with her peers in order to comfort herself. I try to remind myself of this, and to not take it personally, but I know I do it poorly, with my complete lack of a “poker face,” and my tendency to be frustratingly visible with my emotions.
Anyhow, all that to say, I was not a happy camper today. In the midst of the power struggle (which happened while they were taking a practice test), I had no reply to one of her jabs and just turned away to hide my face. Doing so, I turned towards another student—one whom I’ve enjoyed in different contexts at the school (like my girls’ fitness class). While I watched her, she looked up from her paper and loudly called to another student by name, “Hey—what time is it?” I frowned and immediately called her out for talking in the middle of the test. She looked so confused that I walked over to her desk to see what was going on. I, incidentally, was confused by the realization that the wall clock hung directly in front of her.
When I looked down at her paper, she simply pointed at the question she was working on, looking at me with that still genuinely perplexed expression.
Then I laughed. The instructions were to show me various forms of translation to the French language. The question she was looking at read: “Ask a classmate what time it is?”
She had simply forgotten that she was taking a French test and taken the sentence literally :-)
In that moment, I realized that this girl was my “escape hatch” for the class period. If I looked at, and listened to, the students who were simply trying to do their work, I would be able to almost-forget the hurt, and able to laugh—even if that laughter was masking tears.