I never had to write a disciplinary referral on a student in my classes, which is not the same thing as saying I had angels in every class I ever taught. In fact, if there were a kid who couldn’t be handled by other English teachers, I often found that kid transferred to my class. “Give him to Scobe, he’ll handle him.”
Oh, thank you very much! It was nice to be so respected when the school needed me to handle some violent moron – except I never received more in salary or any other considerations for handling some of the dregs of society. Being good at something in public education was really no different than being bad at something in public education – tenure protected me from the pettiness of administrators, that is true and I was grateful for that because some administrators did not like my cavalier attitude, but it also protected many bad teachers from their just desserts – which was, to be blunt, being thrown out of the profession. How did they ever get tenure in the first place?
During my career, I had several murderers, some man slaughterers, many crooks, and a legion of drug addicts and criminals of lesser strips in these “tough” classes. I got along with all of them. They did their work, laughed at my jokes, and all was fine with the underbelly of the student world. I had more trouble with administrators than I did with the students over my career.
However, I did have some kids that I would have – if I could have – shot them on the front lawn of the school. Leading that small parade to my personal firing squad was Jeannie Muscovitz – the most disgusting beast I ever taught.
Jeannie came from an extremely wealthy family whose other children were quite nice. Talk about genetic roulette! The parents had two daughters and a son before they created Jeannie and all those three were model children. They were all attractive, talented, intelligent, and personable – the type of kids all parents want.
Then along came Jeannie. It must have been a full moon when she was conceived and at her birth a werewolf may have bitten her. There must be some explanation for her grossness.
A bulkily built girl – big shoulders, big belly, big arms, and big thick legs and while noticeably fat, she looked incredibly strong – she dressed to show off the loathsomeness of her body – wearing skintight spandex which her belly fell out of and over. She had something of a mustache and beard which she unevenly shaved and she was, to be kind as I am kind of kind, a completely monstrous beast. Some of that was partly due to the constant scowl on her bulbous thick face. Most of it was due however to her decidedly ugly personality – loud, brassy, vulgar, foul, sexually charged, vile and what’s worse, she wanted to control my class.
Sadly she had no respect for her fellow students, her teachers, her parents or for the people she ran down with her car. Here is one of the three car-hits Miss Muscovitz had by the time she was a senior in high school in her own words (as best as I can remember them) told to another student in the hall outside my classroom with me eavesdropping:
“These fucking Orthodox Jews, you can’t even see them wearing all black those stupid morons, and they walk in the street and when it gets dark what do they think you can see them? Stupid morons. You can’t see them, so I am making a left hand turn and they are right there in the middle of the street walking from one side to the other, the stupid morons, and they don’t even look to see if a car is turning and screw them, so I hit the three of them. None of them died. So what’s the big deal and why should I have to have my license suspended? The other two people I hit a couple of years ago when I first got my license shouldn’t count.”
One of her charming habits was to spit big wads of phlegm on the floor of the hallway or in the public drinking fountains throughout the school. You’d hear her take a big intake of air then hear the release, “Thew!” She also, as a testament to her delicate sense of humor, left wads of her phlegm on the banisters of the school’s staircases. How much fun to slide your hand along the banister and get Muscovitz’s goo on your hand. When she had to go to the bathroom she’d say pleasantly to her teachers, “I have to take a shit.” When they scolded her she would argue with them, “Well, what do you call it? You never have to shit?”
The first time she told me she had to “take a shit,” I told her she could leave one but she wasn’t to take one back to the class. That got a nice laugh from the students and a “that’s stupid” from her.
It was a battle to keep this class contained because Jeannie wanted to run the show as she ran the show in all her other classes. The other students in the class were certainly not angels and their normal experiences in school could be chanted as follows: “Destroy the teacher! Destroy the teacher!”
Now when I taught a class I thought of it as an orchestra – one where I was titularly the conductor but a conductor that had to win over the musicians day after day. It didn’t matter if that class were an advanced class or a “tough” class. There could only be one rhythm in a class – my rhythm – and I had to get all the instruments (meaning all the students) in sync with me.
Here’s a better analogy – all the students were guitars and I was also a guitar. They could all be strumming different tunes, different melodies – and the class would be chaotic. Or they could all be strumming the melody that my guitar was strumming – then the class was well behaved and teachable. I started playing my melody even before the first second of the first class by standing at my door and greeting each student personally as they came in. Getting the students to think you liked them – one on one – was a good start to keeping them playing the melody you desired. If they liked you they generally didn’t want to destroy you.
Muscovitz wanted to be the guitar that strummed the tune for the whole class to follow. I had to deflect, dodge, duck, and use every ounce of my wit to keep the class with me and not with her. She always made comments during my lessons – trying to get the class to go berserk – and there were times when she had me on the ropes, where her guitar was as strong as my guitar. Keep this in mind – in a classroom you don’t need every kid going crazy to have the class in total disarray, you just need a few and Muscovitz was trying to get those few to play her tune. However, I knew that if I sent a referral I lost; that she had beaten me, because that’s what all her teachers had done since she was a brutish little hairy thick beast in elementary school. And it had done no good at all; send a kid out of the room and you have lost your authority by admitting you can’t handle a situation.
So how would I defeat this ubber beast?
It occurred in February – yes, six months into the 10-month school year that I crushed her and gained complete control of the class.
I was teaching a lesson about something or other and, as I always did, I made some joke about this or that. The kids laughed. Humor is a great weapon in a teacher’s arsenal. But Muscovitz the Beast screamed out, “That’s not funny. That’s stupid. You’re a dick!”
There it was, a direct insult to the teacher. Muscovitz had stepped over the line. She could “take a shit” or leave her “spit” all over the school or run down black-clad Orthodox Jews going to temple on a Friday night, but those weren’t a direct attack on the teacher – on me. This was. I think a normal teacher would have simply turned red, screamed back, and written a disciplinary referral. Muscovitz would have triumphed. She would have smugly sat in the Dean of Students office saying, “That stupid moron King Scobe wrote me a referral. I didn’t do nothing. That moron!” Then she would return to class the next day or the day after that if she got suspended and been a greater beast than she already had been because she had proven her point – even King Scobe couldn’t control her. Her guitar was in control of the orchestra. She owned the class.
But the moment of decision came for me and when she said, “You’re a dick,” instead of getting all steamy and writing her a disciplinary referral I turned to her and said, “Call me by my first name – BIG!”
The class went into an uproar of laughter. Jeannie had been made to look like a fool. My one line, “Call me by my first name – BIG!” was enough to marginalize her for the rest of the year. In the next few months when she would attempt to disrupt, one or another of my dangerous felons (I had two man slaughterers in that class) would snarl at her and say something to the effect, “You leave BIG alone or I’ll beat the shit out of you!”
It’s nice to have the students playing your tune, isn’t it?
All of Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, e-books, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.