The Absurdity of my Job


Allow me to describe what my job is:

In August every year, 30 or so 14-yr-olds (Times 5) are randomly assigned to spend an hour a day with me for about 36 weeks of the year. A few of them intend to be hostile towards me regardless of what I do. A few of them are heavily medicated because they are pretty much incapable of sitting still (even though that’s most of what’s required of them). A few of them are illegally, but voluntarily heavily-medicated on whatever is available to them via older siblings, friends, parents, etc… Many of them didn’t learn the things they were required to learn in their previous years. Some have never read a book. Few of them have had note-worthy face-to-face interactions with their parents, or any adults. Few of them have any sense of social convention or morality. They have histories with one-another that include injury and drama. Some of them don’t speak English. Some have documented disabilities that keep them from performing at the level of their IQs. Many of them are attired for a day at the beach, because, for some inexplicable reason, children cannot be deprived of spirit week after spirit week after spirit week. Heaven forbid we refuse to entertain them while they’re in our care. One of them is probably personally impacted by devastating illness, themselves facing regular treatments for Cancer, or possibly just observing a parent undergoing chemo.

Sadly, that’s a very normal classroom. And I accept that my job is to take 30 or so kids I’ve never met (times 5), who are in the midst of hormonal, technological, and societal confusion, make them respect me (if not admire and even like me personally), respect each other, and tolerate (if not love) reading, infuse some magic into their lives, and overcome the hundreds of unforeseeable and daunting obstacles placed in my way throughout the year, not the least of which will likely be at least a few of their parents.

A week or two ago, though, my job was just a little too absurd even for me.

It was a Thursday.

On Thursdays, my freshman classes participate in the time-honored tradition of SSR. They bring books of their own choosing and read them quietly. It’s my favorite day of the week, because, if I’ve kept up with grading all week, I get to spend three hours of paid work time reading, only occasionally interrupted by, “May I go to the restroom?” to which my answer is, “Yes, you may use the pass that I printed for you, explained how to use, and even wrote your name on so that you would never have to ask me to go the restroom.” Because, let’s face it, I shouldn’t be subjected to knowledge of every instance when a student needs to poop.

SSR is usually pretty glorious once I’ve got them trained to be quietly and look at their books (even if they refuse to read).

However, in one of my classes on one particular Thursday, I got my kiddos quiet and reading, propped my feet on my desk (yep, I’m that kind of teacher), and opened my Dickens. One of the students near me was breathing a little bit too hard, and making whimpering-like noises, but she’s our Special Ed. student who probably shouldn’t be mainstreamed, but is, so I ignored it, hoping the Marquis would face vengeance for running poor folks over with his carriage.

“Excuse me, Ms. James?”

“Yes?”

Two very pretty and normally quiet girls have approached my desk.

“Can we talk to you outside for a second?”

Fully aware of the absurdity of my job, I rarely leave the room during class time because things can go wrong real quick. While I’m just on the other side of the door, things almost never go wrong, thank God, but it’s entirely possible that one kid could punch another, someone could throw a condom across the room, or other unforeseeable shenanigans could ensue. Still, students don’t often ask for private conversations with me unless there’s a dire need for it. Also, these two girls aren’t the types to ask without cause.

We step out in the hall.

“We noticed that (Sped. Student) has a big red spot on her pants. She must be on her period, and we thought we should tell you before anyone has the chance to make fun of her or embarrass her.”

I think I probably just looked at them without saying anything for a few moments.

“Thank you for telling me,” I said, and sent them back to their desks.

In my brain, I had a moment of, Is my job really so absurd that it’s my responsibility to deal with a teenager’s feminine hygiene mishap? and Bodily fluids are the reason I teach high school rather than elementary… really? REALLY? and I’ve known this girl for exactly two weeks. What the Hell? and I suppose it’s better this happened in my class than in a dude’s class.

Now, okay, in my 7 years of teaching, I’ve encountered pretty disgusting stuff in the realms of vomit, publicly and involuntarily popped bacne, and exposed student flesh, but I’d honestly rather discover that a student has painted on my desk with poop than deal with this one. One of my recurring teacher nightmares at the beginning of every school year is that a student I don’t know walks into my room naked in the middle of silent reading. However, I’d rather deal with that than try to figure out how to get this girl (who is wearing white shorts by the way) out of a room of unforgiving little shits without them noticing the plum-sized red circle that, though I hadn’t noticed before, is uber-visible.

I’ve since learned that other teachers have encountered the same awkward issue and even have a plan for how to deal: They notify the girl, then create a diversion to the tune of, “Hey, class, look at this cool thing on my desk. Everyone gather around!” and the girl slips out of the room.

I ended up writing a nurse’s pass for the girl, whispering to her to join me in the hall, then walking between her and the class in an attempt to shield her from their view as we exited.

We get into the hall, I tactfully tell her what’s going on, and she proceeds to tell me graphically about how impossible this is because she’s “just changed.”

I explain to her that, not only is it possible, but I certainly wouldn’t know she was on her period if there wasn’t some sort of problem. I tell her to go to the nurse’s office because they have spare clothes there and maybe they can give her some P.E. shorts or something.

She suggests that it’ll be okay because there’s only one class left in the day and she’ll likely be sitting during that class.

I was pretty much on the verge of telling her to do whatever the hell she wanted, but instead exerted a little authority and told her she had to go to the nurse’s office. She asked me if there was enough time left in the class period, to which I was like, YES. GO. PLEASE, GO. JUST GO.

And she finally went.

And it all worked out. The nurse gave her an enormous shirt that hung down almost to the bottom of her shorts, so she looked completely unstylish, but who really cares? I haven’t heard any talk about it since then, but I think it’s important that you know how much it bothers me that I had to leave 29 or so, untrustworthy, unkempt miscreants alone to take care of something I never, in all of my life, imagined I’d ever be obligated to deal with.

Moral of the story: DON’T BUY WHITE PANTS, SHORTS, OR SKIRTS FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS. BLACK! ALWAYS BLACK!!!!!!

And make sure they know how to care for their vomit, pimples, poop, feminine hygiene, and ALL OTHER BODILY FUNCTIONS without teacher assistance.

I’m just saying, none of my education classes covered anything of this nature – I’m not qualified to take care of it.

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