I have a fault.
I’m overly direct.
I’m also fairly certain that the only reason this hasn’t gotten me fired or punched in the face is that I am aware of my fault and, with great effort, can repeat the mantra “shut your mouth, shut-your-mouth, shutyourmouth,” in my head during most public interactions in which opening my mouth might, as mentioned above, get me fired or punched in the face.
As is common with most faults/biases/mental disorders, I can easily trace the roots of my problem to my childhood. I was raised direct. Family dinners consisted of discussions of bowel functions, fart stories and why the latest wacko politician was a “batshit, self-righteous, judgmental bastard.” Embarrassing episodes were aired with glee, (lord help you if anyone in the family got wind of your mistakes,) each individual’s faults were recognized and appropriately taunted, and all us, large family that we were, quickly figured out how to grow a thick skin and go our own way, societal norms be damned. Which, occasionally made for some awkward moments.
I distinctly remember answering the doorbell once to find my only-child of a high school boyfriend waiting patiently (his aversion to barging in sans doorbell immediately indicating he was of a different breed.)
“Hi, Matt!” I greeted him happily. “My brothers are all downstairs in drag acting out scenes from the Bible. Want to come join us?”
“Er, no,” he answered definitively.
What? Too much information?
Over the years, my blunt family grew up and matured, which is to say we are now larger, older and a have a few grey hairs. We are not, however, any more subtle.
My brother still rolls in from work during Thanksgiving break doubled over with laughter. “Oh, man, sis…” he giggles delightedly. “You’re never going to guess what my colleague named her kid.”
“YurMajesty. Y-u-r-M-a-j-e-s-t-y! Bwaaaahahaha!!!” Much like twenty years ago, he’s on the floor rolling around with delighted laughter.
“You’re not serious.”
“Oh, yes, I am. Her brothers had named their kids “King” and “Royal” and she wanted to stick with the family theme, so she named him YurMajesty!”
“Ohmygod…Did you taunt her for it?” I wonder, for a brief moment, if taunting the name of a coworker’s beloved offspring might be crossing the line even for me. (Un?)fortunately, my brother’s line is substantially further out, to the extent it exists at all.
“C’mon, sis. Are you serious? Somebody’s got to tell her that’s a stupid effin’ name.”
And while you all, sitting on your couches at home, cringe at his unsolicited opinion, you know he has a point. That child is going to face a lifetime’s worth of hell for that name.
Can you imagine going through high school as YurMajesty?
And that, my dear readers, is where I come in.
Landing in my first classroom of teenagers, I knew I had found my place in the world. My little niche. Somewhere where being my loud-mouthed, opinionated self wasn’t just okay, it was an asset. I find beating around the bush exhausting. Good thing, too, since teenagers get subtlety about as as well as Rick Santorum gets women’s rights.
We’re a match made in heaven.
Me and teenagers, that is. Not stinky-face Santorum. And if you’re not snickering and thinking of Dan Savage right now, there’s a fair chance you’re going to miss a good amount of humor in this blog. That’s cool. Totally your prerogative. Back to my point…
“Damn, Señora!” A student once interrupted my lesson to shout. “You gettin’ THICK.”
Unsure of my grasp of teenage slang, I stopped to clarify. “Did you just call me fat, Alisha?”
Alisha grinned. “Aw, nah. You just thick. You know, got a good booty like the boys like.”
Well, then. So that’s what they’re looking at. Or at least, that’s what, apparently, my straight female students are looking at. The boys…their agenda is slightly more direct.
“Nick! In what universe is it okay to stand up in the middle of a lesson and write “sex” on the whiteboard with my letter magnets?” I pause, mystified, marker in hand, a half-conjugated verb on the board.
“Oops. My bad, Señora.” Nick, on his way back to his seat after his little burst of creative energy, turns around and adds the ‘-o” so that it reads “sexo” in Spanish.
“¡Español!” he beams at me proudly.
He sighs. “Sorry, Señora. I was just staring at the letters and that’s what I saw in my head.”
Can’t argue with that.
The thing about direct people is that if you ask, you’ll always get an honest answer. The thing about teenagers, is that sometimes even if you don’t ask you’ll get an honest answer.
“Alright, kids. First thing I need you to do in groups in name the people you see in this picture…”
“I HAVE PEANUTS! They’re plants in pots at my house and they all have names! One is Late Bloomer. The other is Fred.”
“Ah! Sorry! Blurting! I FORGOT TO TAKE MY MEDS and I JUST CAN’T MAKE IT STOP!” Blane whacks his head on the desk and shakes it back and forth. I know this kids well enough to know he’s not joking. His brutal honesty, even to the point of shouting his faults across the room is disarming. So, as I’ve done so many times when kids have cried, screamed, yelled or spilled their deepest, darkest secrets in front of a room of their peers, I take it all in stride.
“Out, Blane. Three minute walk and don’t come back until you can keep your peanuts to yourself.”
“Can I skip instead of walk?”
“Go for it.”
“Wheeee!” He’s out the door and down the hallway.
I regularly holler “Shut your pieholes,” at my kids. My standard response when they ask to go to the bathroom is to ask them if they’re going to make a puddle of pee pee on the floor. And on the occasions when they return from a trip to the “bathroom” with food pillaged from their locker, we have a serious (and public) talk about the danger of eating snacks scavenged from school restrooms. Still, even though our daily discourse might make a few uptight perfectionist types uncomfortable, I like to think I’m teaching them life skills. We get each other. We speak the same language.
I’ve had kids announce to the class (apropros of nothing) they’ve been molested. I’ve had kids stand up and shout that they hate me. I had two best friends of differing races nickname each other “Blackie” and “Cracker” and insist that these were appropriate names with which to address each other in class. And a part of me, the part that thinks everyone needs to just off their high horse and get a sense of humor about themselves and everyone else, thought that was funny as hell. Which was probably the reason I could sit down and actually have productive conversation with them.
“Alright. Let me get this straight. You, Cracker, are friends with this young man you refer to as Blackie.”
“And therefore, you think you should be able to address Blackie however you wish.”
“And you, Blackie, like this Cracker of a friend of yours.”
“And are totally ok with him calling you Blackie and you calling him Cracker.”
“So just tell me one thing…”
They stare at me curiously.
“If my boss had walked in at any point in this conversation and heard me calling you Blackie and Cracker, do you think I’d still have a job?”
That’ll shut ’em right up. And, in my way, teaches them how to filter. Don’t mouth off at someone who can out-mouth you. Learn from the masters. Who better to teach filtering than from than someone who battles the filter herself? They get it. And because I’m direct, they know I’m sincere. I couldn’t pretend to like them if I didn’t.
“Whoopsie,” I’ll tell a class after threatening to throw someone out the window. “I would like to now clarify that I cannot or will not actually throw a student out a window. I am using hyperbole. Please do not go home and tell your parents I threatened you with bodily harm.”
“Oh, seriously Señora,” they respond. “We know that . Who would be dumb enough to actually throw a student out the window?”
“Well,” I ask in response. “If you had to name one teacher on campus, who would it be?”
“Oh! It would totally be Mr…”
I really must learn to stop asking teenagers questions I don’t need the answers to.
I got seven hours a day. 150 teenagers, adolescent hormones, and a year’s worth of curriculum to get through.
Sugar coating is for pansies.