Valentine’s Day was a disaster. In all fairness, it’s a disaster every year. All the extra hormones flying through the air really affect a high school campus. Satisfied girls walk around with roses and teddy bears to the detriment of those without these things. Jealousy rears its green head amidst all the red and pink, and if you add that to a Monday, it simply means we’re all in for a long day.
Two girls got in a fight during lunch. A female teacher got knocked over in the melee. The girls wouldn’t let go of each other’s hair, even when security got there. I guess by the end of it there were piles of weaves and extensions littered all along the hallway. My students couldn’t stop laughing about it. One student told me it was like a small, fluffy black dog. I was glad he was thinking metaphorically.
Another teacher was threatened by a rowdy kid whose excuse was that it was Valentine’s Day, so he should get to be loud and not do work for one day. The kid yelled this to the teacher: “I’ll beat your fucking ass!” He’ll probably miss school for a day. Actually, he won’t miss school, he’ll just go to detention for that period onTuesday.
That’s when it really gets me bothered about how dangerous it is here on our campus. What other job do you know where your colleagues get physically assaulted and verbally threatened on a daily basis with almost no consequences or added security? When I tell my wife these things, she starts to worry—that’s why I don’t tell my wife these things. On days like yesterday, I need to take a deep breath and try not to think about all the bad stuff.
But then today, I’m standing outside of my door and a group of Surenos surround me. My students near my door are silent all of a sudden. That’s really saying something, because in between passing period they are usually screaming, slapping, and scurrying around like crazy. Instead they perk up and watch the Surenos.
I am on alert, and wonder a few things. They seem to be about to spring on someone. I can’t tell if it is me, or one of the students in my classroom. Two days before I had told these gang members to stop throwing tennis balls against my wall. Lets just say my words were not received cordially. In fact, they told me the kid with the ball in his hand was from Oakland and, quote, “Doesn’t give a fuck.”
That same kid is now standing about a foot and a half from me. The other five or six kids are looking around casually, which they almost never do unless they are about to do something they don’t want people to see.
“What’s up Oakland?” I address the kid from a couple days ago. I’ve decided to just call him “Oakland.” I smile at him to show them I am not scared. I then force out a yawn, although in my mind I’m wondering where the security guards are. There is supposed to be one at all times outside of my door because of the gangs, but if I don’t see security, the kids don’t either. I look over at one of my students standing in the doorway who isn’t a Sureno; he is tense. His eyes are more alert than the sleepy look I’m used to.
Something is about to happen.
“Okay guys, get to class!” The security guard assigned to my hall steps around the corner and the boys immediately scatter. My students relax and go inside. I don’t know what was about to happen, but I have a feeling it isn’t over with.
Anyways, my brother told me the other day that sometimes I focus too much on the negatives when I write. I agree with him. As a critic of education and society in general, sometimes I am forced to point out the bad more than the good. So today I’m going to find the silver-lining in all this.
Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, something funny happened amidst the disaster that was the rest of the day.
My students have been memorizing and reciting sonnets as we read Romeo and Juliet. In my last class of the day, one of my struggling students came to the front of the class and began reciting Sonnet 130. The famous first quatrain goes like this:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wires grow from her head.
As he says the fourth line, his hand comes out of the pocket of his jacket. He is holding a long black hair-extension. It is about a foot long. He lifts it above his head proudly proclaiming, “If hairs be wires, black wires grow from her head.” Everyone knows where the hair came from—he must have picked it off the ground after the fight between the two girls at lunch.
It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my classroom.
I couldn’t stop laughing. Unfortunately, the student didn’t know the rest of the poem. After giving him a month to memorize fourteen lines, he only had those four, so I still had to flunk him. Although I gave him a higher “F” for his interesting interpretation of Shakespeare. I’m not totally heartless.
So although one of my colleagues was assaulted, another was threatened, and we just had someone resign last week because they felt their life was in danger working here, and even though it seems the gang of Surenos is going to attack either me or one of my students very soon, and even though no one feels safe working here, and none of the students feel safe going here, and a security guard just admitted to me today that they are overwhelmed and understaffed to properly protect anyone- I can still find the humor in all of it.
For one hilarious moment, Shakespeare was alive in my 9th grade English classroom, even if he was represented by some poor girl’s dead hair, violently ripped from her head during a fight on Valentine’s Day.