Teaching seventh grade is certainly a challenge, some would say a problem and a few, a horror. This used to be described as a time of transition from childhood to adolescence but now has its own label of tweens. There are only two prevalent moods, high and low, crawling up the walls or off in a deep funk. The girls are busy trying out personas, vamps, cutesy Lolita temptresses, and flaunting their bodies still under construction while the boys are more often rebels without a cause or raging against the new reality of sitting next to grown women while they are mostly a mess of total gawkiness and trying to adjust to limbs that have grown so fast that they are mostly out of control, their faces erupting with zits and at the mercy of a few boys who have somehow by-passed this affliction. Their voices fail when they most need to be cool; the fucking girls are taller than they and even stronger, just constant humiliation. And so they act out, as it is described, get in trouble and endure even more humiliation. To add to this medieval torture everyone takes great delight in disparaging comments and sarcasm about physical appearance and athletic ability.
I had wanted to teach senior high school but, as always, there were no openings because the Boomers had lost all their savings and had to work until they dropped. And I had wanted to teach in a nice, safe, suburban school, not out here in the boonies, not quite rural, an outlying suburb, a township as it is called in the near East. There is no there, there. But the middle school was fairly modern and as sterile as most schools, halls lined with lockers, waxed floors with standard classrooms furnished with the usual armchair desks. Our orientation meeting was held in the library with appropriate totally unhealthy donuts and coffee with non-dairy creamer. I sipped my coffee and tried to disassociate but was not able for the teachers were chattering away, the current topic being who had Timothy Thompson this term. Several laboriously raised their hands; I didn't because I hadn't even glanced at the rosters.
"Our condolences to all. My suggestion is a giant size bottle of super strength aspirins and three martinis waiting at home."
This from our union rep. I noticed that all the hand raisers were, like me, new faculty, all men. I looked at my class lists and there was the dreaded name Timothy Thompson.
"How come he has only male teachers?" I stupidly asked.
"Ah. We have an observant rookie among us. Because every woman teacher who had him last term quit, especially Carol who was pushed down the back stairway and spent two weeks in the hospital and the other poor women were subjected to the creative bulling of our resident terrorist."
"And nothing can be done, send him to office, detention, talk to his parents?"
"The office doesn't want him since he threw a stapler at our secretary leaving a permanent scar and his father is the sheriff and on the school board and he shows up, berates the teachers and accusing them of being incompetent."
"So what should we do?"
"I'd ignore if him if you can then just make the class do silent reading."
"Not with him in the room. Sorry!"
And there he was in fourth period in the last row, in back, fat, bigger than the other boys and snarling his Dick Cheney impression rather than talking. I did my standard introduction, the curriculum we had to follow, what I expected of them, my few rules, very necessary for this age group. I knew that most kids lose it at times and so my main rule was that we would do a lot of discussion, so raise your hand and I will get to you but no shouting out, no talking out of turn and no conversations while I was talking. And, I would only issue one warning about breaking my rules, no more chances and repeating myself. I always sought to avoid the pattern so many teachers fall into, of shouting for quiet over and over and finally only shouting. That filled the period and Tim the Terrorist said nothing. I had used that simple set of rules before and it had mostly worked pretty well.
It began the next day. We just got started when TT yelled at the girl in front of him, "Hey, Mary you ain't got any tits at all." Then he laughed and, "Mary, Mary quite contrary the titless wonder." She was devastated, her eyes watered up and she sobbed quietly, her face in her hands.
"Timothy, you will stop that immediately and that is your warning. NOW!"
My very loud voice made him hesitate and I went to Mary and tried to console her. Don't pay any attention to him Mary; he doesn't know any better.
"I know better and I know she ain't got any tits; she looks like a boy."
"You had your warning."
I took an empty chair put it outside the door and took him by the arm to the door.
"What the fuck are you doing asshole? Let go of me motherfucker."
I sat him down in the chair, went back in, closed the door and locked it. I began the class again. The door only had a narrow long window. He had his face against it yelling but we heard nothing. The kids laughed at him. He was enraged. But we had a good class session. When the bell rang he tried to get in but couldn't fight the kids pushing out and, worst of all, ignoring and laughing at him. Then I closed and locked the door for my planning period.
The next day, I followed my philosophy that all kids should start fresh every day, no recriminations and no history. He came in and yelled out to the boy in front of him, "What are you looking at fuckhead?"
"You have your warning Timothy. Sit down and be quiet."
"No, you shut up fartbreath!"
"Out you go." I took the chair to the hall and sat him down.
"You faggot cocksucker, shithead, cuntlapper..."
I closed and locked the door and he pounded on it but the sound was muted and eventually we ignored it. I was well aware that he hated this punishment because it took away his audience, turning his frustration into rage. The ritual was repeated every day. I kept an accurate record of his very creative profanities, quite amazing really. After two weeks the school counselor scheduled a conference with his father who was enormous and even fatter than TT, in uniform with a big gun in a holster.
"Mr. Thompson, you asked for this meeting with Mr. Daniels about your son Timothy?"
"Yeah! My kid says he has to sit outside the classroom 'cause this jerk won't let him in."
"Mr. Thompson, it serves no purpose to use that sort of language. Mr. Daniels, is this true?"
"No! I let him in the classroom every day and every day I give him a warning, they only get one warning, to stop his behavior. Every day he ignores the warning and I have to remove him for the sake of the other students."
"And what exactly does he do?"
I described his encounter with Mary, the boy in front of him and his verbal assaults on me. Then I read the list of his amazing profanities; it was by this time very long. The school counselor was appalled.
"This is very definitely not acceptable behavior."
"Oh shit, boys will be boys and so he uses a few bad words, so what? What's all the fuss about?"
"Mr. Thompson, we cannot and do not allow such language in this school."
"Okay, okay already but I want my kid back in the classroom."
"That's not a problem. I allow him in every day without comment, a fresh start." He just glared at me.
"I'll talk to the kid. Maybe!"
Foolishly, I thought maybe that might work. After class I got in my car, backed out and started for the street. I stopped at the exit and the patrol car blocked me, the top lights flashing. He got out of the car. I could see Timothy laughing and giving me the finger. I lowered the window.
"What seems to be the trouble?"
"Speeding in a school zone."
"What are you talking about? I was stopped."
"Fifty miles an hour in a school zone is a triple fine, should be a couple hundred. Your registration and license."
"You can't be serious!"
"Your registration and license or I'll have to take you in."
"Take me in for what?"
"Alright sir, step out of the car and place your hands on the hood or I will arrest you on the spot."
He dragged me out and in position, did a body feel up and then shoved me back in the car hitting my head. He wrote the ticket shoved it at me and threw my papers in after and left with TT turned backwards towards me sticking out his tongue. I told the story to the principal the next day and asked what I should do, go to court?
"It won't do any good. His brother's the magistrate and he'll make it worse for you. You'll just have to eat it and avoid him."
The routine was established. Every day he came in shouting at me and other kids.
"Hey faggot, what shit are you going to tell us today?"
I took him out immediately to the waiting chair in the hall.
"Let go of me you cunt-lapping, shit-eating maggot, homo..."
At the end of the day I stayed back waiting for the coast-is-clear alert from the school secretary who became my advanced scout calling me if she spotted the patrol car and where it was. Most days he lay in wait so I had to find all sorts of out of my way alternative routes. One Friday TT did his usual grand entrance and went straight up to Elizabeth, the shyest girl in the class who, as always, was reading a book.
"Hey lizard breath, what the fuck are you reading?"
She ignored him, didn't look up, just kept reading and before I could even warn him he shoved her chair over with her in it. She fell hard on the floor on one arm and I could hear it break. She screamed in fear and pain, crying and unable to get up.
"Hey, lizard face has fallen down and she can't get up, she's fallen down and..."
I grabbed him and pushed him away from her. "Shut up now and stand over there -- NOW! Martin, go get the nurse and Samantha, get the counselor -- hurry!"
The two women arrived in seconds. The nurse immediately made a sling from her scarf to support the broken arm and the counselor helped calm the sobbing girl while several of the girls held her off the floor instinctively like mothers. I asked the counselor to watch the class while I got to the office to order an ambulance. I grabbed Timothy by both shoulders and marched him out of the room.
"Let go of me you faggot cocksucker, shithead, cunt, douche bag, dickhead, mother fuck ass."
He was screaming and kicking managing to find both my shins even though I was holding him well in front of me. I could feel the blood running down both legs, soaking my pants and into my shoes and socks. I pushed him into the office screaming his head off. The principal was there and grabbed one arm and between us moved him toward the conference room. I told the secretary to order the ambulance and told the principal what he'd done.
"I didn't do a fucking thing. She fell out of the fucking chair, that's all, she's a retard."
"The whole class saw you. You broke her arm." Now I was shouting. We got him into the room and locked him in. He was in a rage, his extensive vocabulary of obscenity spewing forth. "I need to get back to the kids."
"Don, you're bleeding all over the floor. You've got to get the nurse to take care of you. I'll meet the ambulance guys and bring them down."
I hadn't realized that I left a trail of blood all the way down the hall and was leaving more over the office floor.
"I'll do it later." And I rushed back to my classroom. Elizabeth was still crying. The counselor was hugging her and she was surrounded by the girls talking to her and holding her hands.
"Don, you'd better come with me so I can stop all that bleeding."
So I followed the nurse to her office and she bandaged my legs which were now hurting. I was limping. The ambulance crew lifted Elizabeth on to the gurney and wheeled her out. The counselor went with her to the hospital. The principal made an announcement that school would close early because of a severe storm approaching so the school buses could get everybody home before it hit. I could still hear TT screaming in the background. The principal suspended him for three weeks and the father picked him up evidently believing his son's story, of course.
I was the last to leave. The hallway was empty except for the custodian trying to mop up my blood. My pants and socks were stuck to my skin and I was limping, wincing as the material peeled away from my blood soaked bandages. I got to my car with sleet and ice sticking to my hair and had to scrape the ice off my windshield. The de-frostier worked and I could finally see out. The parking lot was empty and completely iced over so I shifted down to low drive, crept out and onto the street, skidding even just turning.
The streets were already deserted but I continued to keep a very slow but steady speed. Four wheel drive is fine in snow, but with ice the only advantage was that it kept the car aligned straight. I made the turn onto Main and headed toward the river bridge. I got past First and Second Streets. Only one more to go, and hope the bridge wouldn't be a problem. After Third Street the patrol car appeared and followed me with the roof flashers turned on. Incredible! Keeping it in low I began to gradually go faster. When I hit twenty I shifted into drive and went up to thirty. The siren turned on and the patrol car also began to accelerate. I could see the smile on Thompson's face and TT jumping up and down on the seat cheering him on. I took it up to forty. The bridge was coming up fast. The light was beginning to fade but not yet necessary for headlights, although there was a mist from the sleet now turning to snow. Just before the bridge I upped it to fifty and could feel the car wanting to go into a skid but I held the speed even and gripped the wheel keeping me straight, down the center of the roadway.
As I had hoped the Thompson car was just entering the bridge and coming on very fast. Midway on the bridge I flicked on and off the parking lights a couple times then full on as if I was suddenly braking but still really keeping my speed steady. He took the bait and jammed on his brakes, sending the car into a sideways skid, slamming it first against a light pole on the driver's side, then bouncing off and doing the same to a pole on the passenger's side, which straightened out the skid and sent the car heading directly toward the far railing, with the siren screaming. As I turned onto the exit ramp, shifting back to low drive, I could see the car in midair nose diving toward the river. It didn't float but just plunged in. The siren gurgled out and the lights just a few seconds later under the rushing water.
I didn't encounter any other cars, just an almost complete white out, and managed to get home before the worst of the storm hit.
Everyone was snowed in all of Saturday without power, but by Sunday afternoon we had power back and the roads cleared. I arrived early on Monday just as the custodian unlocked, had a cup of coffee, walked to my classroom, unlocked the door, moved the chair back to its original place, sat down at my desk and wrote the lesson plan for the day.