The thing with working at a small school is that it doesn’t have an in-school suspension room.
We don’t even have detention. Kids are just referred to the office and dealt with by the principals on an as-needed basis. Which, naturally, translates to “needed every day.” And when one of the those kids lands him/herself in ISS, they get the pleasure of sharing an office space with either an administrator or yours truly.
This week, Shanita landed at my table. Again.
“Back in the office, I see,” I told her, as she sassily sat down in the chair by the door.
“What’d you do this time?”
“Made Mr. Wilson mad,” she sneaked a smile at me. I had won her good graces by chatting with her the last time she was in detention. Apparently, shooting the shit with a boring adult is better than sitting staring at the wall for an hour. Which means I probably ruined the whole punishment piece of the detention, but being out of the classroom this year, I can’t resist the opportunity to interact with a kid, especially a frequent flier, sharp-tounged trouble maker. They’re my favorite.
“What’d you do to Mr. Wilson?”
“He told me to take off my sweater because it wasn’t dress code. So I told him ‘no.’” I glanced at her sweater. Hot pink with silver glitter pretty definitively didn’t fit in with the school uniform.
“So you flat refused to do what he asked.”
“Yup,” she stared defiantly into the corner of the ceiling.
“And I’m guessing he asked you more than once.”
“Yup,” she switched corners with her eyeballs, still avoiding mine.
“And now you’ve landed yourself in the principal’s office again.”
“Yup. But I don’t care.”
“You don’t care.”
“Nope. Because I won.”
“You won with Mr. Wilson?”
“Because you didn’t give him your sweater.”
“You must have a really good reason for not giving him your sweater.”
“I didn’t give him my sweater because it’s from my dad and I haven’t seen my dad in two years and if I give Mr. Wilson my sweater he doesn’t give it back all day.”
“Told you you had a good reason.”
The eyes venture down from the ceiling. For a second. Then they shoot back up.
“Plus, I like drama!”
“You like drama?”
“I live for drama!”
“You live for drama? Ugh. You must have more energy than me. I’ve decided I’m too old for drama. Seems a whole lot nicer to have some peace and quiet. What do you get out of drama?”
“I get to win!”
“Like you won with Mr. Wilson.”
“Mr. Wilson sent you down here, so if you’re not in his class…shoot…if I sent a sassy student away, my class would be a whole lot easier to teach. Which would make me really happy. In fact, I bet Mr. Wilson’s up there doing the happy dance because his class is so easy to teach now. And you’re down here. So, sorry, lady. I think Mr. Wilson won.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter because I’m leaving this stupid school anyway.”
“You’re leaving this school? When?”
“In December. Or after eighth grade. Whenever.”
“So what I’m hearing you say is that you want out of this school more than anything.”
“Cool. Let’s plan it out then. What do you need to do to guarantee that you can get out this school, successfully, no later than eighth grade?”
“I dunno. Get good grades and pass my classes I guess.”
“So you need to pass your classes. Which means you have to be in your classes. Which means you have to see Mr. Wilson.”
“I hate Mr. Wilson.”
“Right. So, on a scale of 1 – 10, how badly do you want to leave this school?”
“Okay. On a scale of 1 – 10, how much does it suck having to deal with Mr. Wilson?”
“Well, what I just heard you say was that Mr. Wilson sucks but you know it’s more important to get good grades. And that it sucks less to deal with Mr. Wilson than it would to fail his class and not be able to leave when you want.”
“So you’re telling me that you might be able to put up with Mr. Wilson for your own good.”
“You know one trick I have?”
“I choose to believe the best about people. So when they do something I don’t like, I try and train myself to think, ‘What do I not know about this person?’ Like, for example, if I were Mr. Wilson, and I asked you to take your sweater off and you didn’t, I’d be mad. But I’d think ‘What do I not know about Shanita?’ and that might be a good thing, because in a way I’d be right. I wouldn’t have known the sweater was from your dad and you miss your dad.”
“So here’s the tricky part. What do you not know about Mr. Wilson?”
“If I took you up to Mr. Wilson’s room right now and asked you to tell him what you told me about your sweater, what would you say to him?”
The sass returns.
“Oooh, I’d tell him “I didn’t give you my sweater because it was a gift from my dad and I haven’t seen my dad in two years and if he tried to say anything, I’d say, ‘No! You listen to me!’ Then I’d tell him, ‘I told you all I got to say to you,’ and then I’d leave and if he tried to say something, I’d just look at him and leave again!”
“So…Mr. Wilson is forced to listen to you, but you don’t think it’s fair to have to listen to him in return?”
“Well…maybe I’d listen but then I’d leave.”
“That sounds reasonable enough. If I walked up there with you now, you think you’d be willing to have that conversation?”
“Good for you. But for the moment you’re off the hook, because he’s still in the middle of class. You know what really sucks about you being in trouble?”
“I can’t get any work done. You’re too distracting.”
“What if I gave you some markers and paper and told you to write the magic story of the pink sweater?”
“It’d keep you busy and then I’d get some work done. And we could turn your sweater story into an adventure. Here…”
I dig out my highlighters and rip a piece of paper from my notebook wondering what the hell has possessed me to spout such a weird idea. No crazy 7th grader is going to follow such bizarre instructions. But I do need to get some work done.
“I’ve labeled it for you. ‘The Magic History of the Pink Sweater.’ On the top, I want you to draw a picture of the sweater. On the bottom, I want you to write me a story about it in a short paragraph. Then we’ll put it in a frame and you’ll have your pink sweater story forever.”
“Can I use yellow for the white parts of the sweater?”
“It’s a magic sweater. What part of magic don’t you understand?”
She grabs the markers.
I turn back to my work notes.
We both scribble away.