*Disclaimer: There is no point to the following retelling. There is no moral to the story. Any attempt at finding one will result in disappointment. Thank you, The Management.
After I had taught elementary school in my home state of Texas for three years, my husband decided that we should up and move to Califor-nee, where he would re-enter the world of students and I would support our little, two person family. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just get a teaching job there.”
What I didn’t know was, at that time, in the early 90’s, there were approximately 10 applicants for every opening in the teaching field where we were relocating. And, of course, anyone from out of state trying to jump through the hoops to get certified was at a disadvantage from the get go.
So, after many hours and many miles of driving to interviews, I resigned myself to joining the ranks of substitute teacher.
This meant that each morning, I would wait for a phone call to tell me where to show up to teach a class that I had never seen before. I became known as “the one from Texas” or “Miss Texas” when they were feeling complimentary.
As I began to settle into my position, I noticed a rash of Obedience Deficit Disorder in the students. (How ODD!) I attributed this to a lack of any meaningful punishment when I compared the students and the discipline methods to their Texas counterparts. (Don’t get all up in my grill, California people. I’m just reporting my observation, here. ‘Kay?)
A few times I was called a Very Bad Name and the student would be given a stern talking to by the principal and sent right back to my class. This shocked me at first because I would have expected something more, er, substantial to have taken place to deter the behavior. Nevertheless, I came to accept these conditions and tried to make the best of it.
One day, I was called to substitute in a fourth grade class, and accepted the three day assignment, as usual.
The morning began fairly routinely with nothing out of the ordinary happening. Sometime after lunch, though, there was a dust up between two boys, Ben W, whose name I shall never forget and another whose name I can’t recall.
They had begun to scuffle near the chalkboard, where I was standing, and I stepped over to break it up. I ordered them to cut it out and return to their seats, but they paid no attention to me. The other students in the class began to back away and form a circle around the two fighting boys, and I could see that they had no intention of stopping.
That’s when I did something that I regretted deeply a few short seconds later. I stepped in between the two assailants to try to break up the fighting.
One boy stopped immediately and backed away. Ben W, who I would later find out had been diagnosed as E.D. (Emotionally Disturbed – Hey! Thanks, administration for not telling me about that little issue!) decided to continue his physical assault – on me!
He continued his punching and kicking and scratching and slapping, and I tried to hold his arms and deflect his thrashing the best I could.
I finally got a good grip on each of his wrists, after he ripped my watch off and sent it flying. He got in several swift kicks to my legs and stomach, while I called for the students to go get the principal.
By this time, the rest of the class had gathered around and some were crying. Others were shouting for Ben to stop and several ran out the door to get help.
I’m not sure how long the whole episode lasted, but it seemed like we struggled that way for an hour.
I guess Ben finally decided that I wasn’t going to let go willingly, so he broke free from my grip and ran out the door. I staggered after him and saw him running down the street away from the school just as the principal was running toward me.
Breathless and in shock, I did my best to explain to the principal what had happened. The other students affirmed my accounting of the story, and I was escorted to the nurse’s office where I was encouraged to take the rest of the day off to recover from all the excitement.
I went home and curled up in a ball under many covers, where I cried my eyes out and replayed the humiliation over and over again. I imagined returning to the class the next day and having all of the students laugh and scoff at me. I wondered if I would be in trouble for becoming physical with a student. I wondered what would happen if I just never went back.
The principal called that evening to see if I was alright and told me about Ben’s history of violent behavior. He assured me that Ben would not be returning to school for three whole days(!) and asked me to consider returning to finish my assignment.
I decided that it would be best to go ahead and look my humiliation in the face. Get back on the horse, so to speak.
I went back the next day with my head held high, but trembling inside. I expected the students to point and laugh and be altogether disruptive and disrespectful to me, but I knew I had to face my fears head on.
When I got out of my car that next morning and walked past all of the students lined up waiting to enter the school, I could hear a murmuring. I took a deep breath and kept my eyes straight ahead.
That’s when I first made out what some of them were saying. I heard, “That’s the teacher who beat up Ben W!” and “Don’t mess with Texas!”
They had come away with a completely different perception of the event than I had. I had been assaulted by a fourth grader and they thought I had beat him up!
The rest of my assignment in that class went very smoothly, with an extra measure of respect shown to me until the end.
I never was called to go back to that particular school and never heard what became of Ben W. I suspect that wasn’t the last time he ran into trouble with an authority figure, though.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ben, though I probably wouldn’t mind it if I did.
And just in case he’s reading…
Hey, Ben? You owe me a watch.