I showed up for work not feeling the Monday. As I swiped my card I heard Mr. Smith behind me, “Oh there you are!” I turned around, surprised that anyone would be looking for me so early in the day. Typically my duties wouldn’t begin until after the tardy bell. That’s when the long line of students would begin, “Miss can I have a pencil?”, “Miss can I borrow a jacket?” or some variant thereof.
“What’s up?” I heard the surprise in my voice as I turned to Mr. Smith. He instantly put on a huge smile and I knew I was in for it.
“So… a thing happened.” He began, students pushing past to beat the bell. “Mrs. Lara had an emergency and isn’t coming in. She found a sub but they can’t get here until after lunch.” My heart literally plummeted. I knew what was coming and my dread intensified. “I really need you to cover until the sub arrives. It’s a test day and I can’t have them running wild, please you gotta take one for the team. They aren’t even testing so it’s like a movie day, you just have to keep them in and quiet.” I dropped my head dramatically. Both of us knew that I would do it. I love my job, I love my coworkers and I get that stuff happens. But oh dear God, the idea of being in a room full of teenagers all morning…. I am so not a teacher!
With a heavy sigh and dramatic roll of the eyes I reach out and open the door.
It is a large science classroom with a walled off closet on the right side. There are lab tables as well and a round table and in the corner a few bean bags. The desk that I will be in is at the front of the room with the white board behind me. Huge windows line the back of the room . My presence makes no difference to the volume level in the room. The students are all conversing in groups, many are practically yelling to be heard. I genuinely worry that my head might explode. I take deep breaths as I walk unnoticed to the teachers desk. The bell rings, no one hears it, including me.
Around me is chaos, middle school boys chasing one another around the room, four girls dancing in the corner, a group playing poker towards the front of the room with quarters laid out before them; all before 8:05. I continue breathing deeply trying to decide the best way to gain the attention of the students without screaming like a banshee. I settle on the white board. I go to the computer and pull up a video. They won’t like it, but they will notice it. I smile wickedly to myself, and turn the volume almost to the highest setting and pushed play.
The purple dinosaur appeared on the screen and his voice began to bellow, “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere.” Their eyes turn to the front of the room, confused. “Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share.” Thirty sets of eyes are now on me. There is still talking but now it is, at least, directed at me.
“What the hell miss?”
“What is this?”.
“Oh, hell no!”
I push pause. “Good morning lovely children I will be your sub this morning.” The voices begin to start again, I raise my voice and continue. “It will either be the easiest morning of your lives or we will all be miserable together.” I can feel myself losing them and I can’t help but think that this is going to be miserable. “All I ask guys, is that you keep your volume down and stay in your spots. We can watch a movie, you can quietly play cards, you can play on your phone, heck you can sleep if you want. Just don’t be loud and obnoxious.” A few seem to have listened, they have turned away and continued their poker. I feel slightly confident, perhaps it worked?
Oh crap, the girls are dancing again. What was that, shit, someone threw a football. I lose. My head drops and the room volume increases. I have always been all about picking my battles and I recognize that this one is lost. I sit down and a girl walks up to me, “Can you please put a movie on?” Of course I will. She is sweet and polite and maybe, just maybe some of the others will chill and watch it as well. (My God I am that naïve!)
I sit at the desk, trying to ignore the rumble of the classroom as the movie “Black Panther” plays behind me. I notice, with some hope, that a few more students have settled in to watch the movie. The girls in the back corner have stopped dancing, they are taking selfies in class now it seems. The poker game proceeds. Not an ideal learning environment I grant you, but on the other hand I’m not a teacher. Then Jordan walks up to me and I know its game on.
Jordan is what I refer to as a “bless his heart” boy. What that means is that I love him and it is a mystery why. He is a typical bounce off of the walls ADHD poster boy who doesn’t understand personal boundaries and likes to elicit reactions from people. He has a slightly mischievous look about him, but that’s not unusual.
“Miss, Miss, Miss…” he rocks back and forth right in front of my face.
“Yes, yes, yes Jordan. What do you need?”
“Can I please go to the nurse miss?” Knowing Jordan as I do I realize easily enough that this is probably code for “can I roam the halls uninhibited and interrupt classes at my leisure.”
“Why do you need to go to the nurse? The other classes are testing this morning so your supposed to stay put.” I thought I sounded reasonable, I think he disagreed. His voice elevated to a whine just short of a shout, “MISS, I need to go see her, she said she was bringing me chips today if I was good and I’ve been good.” I reminded him that the bell had literally just rang and that he hadn’t really had time to be a problem yet. This obviously came across as encouragement.
“NO MISS! That’s some bullshit! She promised me, why you gonna trip like that. OH MY GOD!” and the yelling has officially begun. I know that I can’t send anyone out unless it is a genuine emergency and so I try to talk him down despite being completely irritated by a twelve-year-old screaming obscenities in my face at (quick glance at the clock) 8:27 in the morning. I finally manage to talk him off of the proverbial edge by bribing him with a soda at lunch and off he wanders, victorious. I’m not proud of bribing him, but needs must.
There is relative peace for about ten minutes. Then I hear a loud female voice. “Man you better step back or I’ll knock the shit out of you.” I make my way over the laughter that follows, past the disdainful looks of the few quiet students watching the movie. Jordan stands in front of a girl whose name I can’t remember.
I can’t remember her name but I do remember her face. She would be pretty if she didn’t always have a pissed off expression. She is an athlete at the school, which is code for she is allowed to be an ass. These are the students that I struggle with. Jordan is annoying but he really can’t help it (entirely) she on the other hand had no excuse beyond spoiled entitlement that I could see. She cocked her head to the left as I walked up, staring at me in disdain. “Miss I’m gonna knock the shit outta this little boy if you don’t make him go on.”
I try to give her my best adult stare. “Seriously, can you please not cuss when speaking to me?” Again I have managed to pour gasoline on a flame. She and her three friends immediately start chirping wildly and talking over one another to tell me what Jordan had done to deserve having the shit knocked out of him. I couldn’t hear a thing that they were saying and the sound of their combined complaints made me want to either hit them or plug my ears. Seeing as I have never been to jail and that is not part of my bucket list I opt to avoid physical violence and try to listen to them. If I were a cartoon this would be the time that my hair started to really frizzle out.
I could feel my heart rate going up with my stress. Eventually I was able to get Jordan away from the girls and they settled back into whatever conversation they were having before I went over. The rolled their eyes and I could feel my blood begin to boil at the disrespect. A large blue beanbag chair flew past my head followed by laughter, picking my battles.
Just as I sat another set of shouts. This time from the poker table. Apparently someone won. The movie kids shush them loudly and look to me for support. Little do they realize how little control I actually have. My head is beginning to pound now. It is 9:00 a.m.
There is an announcement on the PA. Between the battle scene of the movie, the animated poker game, the girls music (dancing again) and the overall roar of the classroom, I can’t make out a word of it. A student asks me, “What did they say Miss?” I shrug my shoulders and shake my head in reply. “I thought I heard something about weather.” she continues, looking a bit concerned.
I walk to the door and poke my head out to see if anyone is in the hall that might have heard something. I see no one, so I fake a conversation for the students sake. I glance at my phone, checking to see if there is anything with the weather I should know about. I walk back to the girl and tell her the news, “Nope, just light rain like it has been doing.” She nods and wanders back to wherever she came from.
As I watch her move away I see something that demands my attention. Feet. Not just any feet. Feet sticking out from under a table. Two sets. OH SHIT.
I quickly walk over and interrupt the students who somehow managed to get under the table to takeout. ‘Must have gone there when I was at the door’, I think to myself. They grumble and smile as they get up, it’s all a game to see what they can get away with. That’s all it ever is. Shouting from behind me, I turn to see two boys shoving each other and bumping chests. All I can think is oh hell no, where is that damn teacher!!
“Hey, back off. Quit this now.” My voice is only slightly less than a yell, I feel my temper teetering on the edge. I have managed up until now to not have a pity party but dammit my head hurts. I am beginning to get really pissed at the whole situation, but I don’t have time. As soon as fight a is broken up I hear a crash and turn to see Jordan standing next to a toppled book shelf. I stomp over to him. “Seriously? What happened.?”
“I don’t know Miss.”
“He was standing on it.”
“No I wasn’t! Don’t you lie on me!” his small fist is pulled back and aimed at her cheek.
The girls voice continues, “What you gonna do? You gonna hit me? It’ll be the last thing you do, my Daddy will tear you up!”
“STOP” My voice is a bit louder than I intended but effective. She walks away and Jordan continues to deny knowledge of the crime while I assess the broken shelf. Now I know a teacher than will want to kill me when she gets back to school. Great. Jordan literally runs away from me but I can’t follow and don’t have time to call out because lo and behold more chaos is unfolding. I turn towards the white board where the sounds of Black Panther are now blaring and make eye contact from across the room with the quite good girl. She stands, remote in hand volume at max on the movie. I know it is reverberating up and down the hallway, how could it not be? I start walking through the throngs of students, fully aware that any semblance of peace is crumbling before my eyes.
In reaction to the increased volume of the movie all of the students have increased to their personal maximum volumes. Is it possible for a head to literally split because of a headache? I snatch the remote away from here and as I press the button to lower the volume I hear another shriek. I spin around and see the athlete girl throwing a book at the back of a boy running the opposite direction. Jordan leaps over a desk and slides away and I’m convinced that he wants me to stroke out. My anger is at an all time high. I feel like I’m losing my mind.
I begin walking towards the area where Jordan disappeared and then there is a crash and a scream. This sound is different.
This is the sound of glass shattering. This is a scream of true fear or pain.
Suddenly I feel like I am moving in slow motion. I turn and immediately my eyes rest on one of the girls who had been dancing in the back. She is laying on the floor and, is that blood on her head. What the hell? All of the students are staring at her still body. “What happened?” I yell over the voices of the kids. Eyes are boring into me and heads are shaking. There is some sort of rumbling that I am barely aware of as I walk to her prone body. A second crash and screaming. The students are in a frenzy now. I see the large rock responsible for the second crash as it slides across the floor. Shards of broken glass crumble from the window. What the hell is happening. I see the classroom door fly open and Mr. Smith is there.
“Out! Everyone out, get in the hallway, get away from the windows.”
For once compliant the student all rush towards the door at the same time. It is practically a stampede. More and more rocks crash through the windows. I see a few students fall as the rocks hit them but they get up and continue on. It is chaos. Tall boys are climbing over their peers to reach the doors first. I feel myself being swept along the current of student bodies towards the door and into the hallway. Screaming, crying people everywhere. Students, adults all amassed in the relative safety of the narrow corridor.
I glance back in the room and see a small boy, he is pressed against the wall with a look of abject horror on his face. The roar of the rocks and the din of the glass falling mute his screams. I turn back into the room and run across it towards him. A solid thump as a rock crashes into my upper arm. There is a numbness followed by the most intense pain I’ve ever felt. I make it to Jordan and pull him into my body with my good arm. I scan behind me and see the teacher desk about seven feet away. Dragging him with me I run towards it as quickly as I can fighting back the urge to vomit brought on by the crushing of my bones. A rock the size of a small boulder slams through the ceiling beside us and we both scream. I shove him down under the desk and slide in behind him as quickly as I can.
He has been my nemesis, my personal pain in the ass all day and here I am with a broken arm trying to calm him down. The irony is not lost on me. The crashing sound intensifies and I cover his head as best I can and squeeze my eyes shut. The pain is incredible and the fear is greater still. Eventually, after what feels like an eternity the mayhem slowly subsides. The thunder of the stones once like a river becomes intermittent before dying away completely. There is silence in the room. He shakes in my embrace like a terrified kitten and I slowly loosen my hold and open my eyes to survey the damage.
The girl, or rather the body of the girl, who was initially struck still lies near the empty window frames. All that you can see of her is her tennis shoe. She is buried beneath the rubble of the ceiling and the rocks that crashed it in. The gray sunlight is coming from above us, there are massive holes where once was a solid ceiling. And the rocks. Oh my God the rocks. They litter the floor, they are practically everywhere. The desk where the boys were playing poker no longer exists. It is little more than a splinter now. My mind struggles to make sense of the destruction but it can’t. Where did they come from? I begin to move trying to scoot from beneath the desk, our safe haven, but I have to clamber over stones and debris. Jordan is silent. Something within me recognizes the shock. My arm is ablaze.
Eventually we manage to crawl from our cave and Jordan clenches my good hand and buries his body against mine. It’s funny how you can forget that children are children even when they begin to look grown. Right now he is a child, terrified and trembling and needing an adult to protect him. I try to block his view of his fallen peer. I don’t know if I am successful but he doesn’t react so I hope that I am. We move down the hallway, there is less rubble, only a few places in the ceiling seem to have been breached by the stones. We navigate down the long corridor towards the exit door. I am deaf to the voices around me, the few brave adults looking in the doors, trying to decide what to do. I brush past them as if they aren’t there when they speak to me. My mind feels numb.
Outside Jordan finally lets go my hand and wanders towards a group of children. I stand in the parking lot, a cemetery of crushed vehicles surrounding me and look at the school. I hear sirens, they sound far away. I see the people shuffling and moving all around, trying to organize the masses of students and teachers all around. I want to help but I can’t seem to move. I can’t seem to tear my eyes away from the ruin before me.
My arm hurts. I’m not mad anymore.