Last week I was subbing for a high school Integrated Science (whatever that means) class, giving an exam. I told the students they could study for five minutes before taking the test, and most of the kids started cramming immediately, but I noticed this one girl, Hallie, who was just, like, staring at the wall.
Hallie had dark raccoon eyes (the thickest layer of eyeliner I've ever seen), bleached blonde hair, and lots of random jewelry. She reminded me of Madonna (fashion-wise) (circa Desperately Seeking Susan) crossed with Kim Kelly (attitude-wise) (from Freaks and Geeks).
I'm sure Hallie has been described as a "problem child" by her teachers for years. That's the thing I've discovered since I started subbing. There are all of these kids who, from what I can tell, started out with (for whatever reason) this attitude that's like "you're gonna give up on me, I know it, I dare you to" and then most of their teachers were probably way overworked and had way too many kids to deal with and they didn't have time to prove these kids wrong and to, like, believe in them, so their teachers proved them right and gave up on those kids and branded them "problems." It starts in kindergarten and then gets worse from there.
But I don’t want none of that. I feel like, if there's any small contribution I can make to these kids lives while I'm passing through as their substitute teacher, it's to care about these kids who so obviously don't care anymore.
So I sat with Hallie and asked her why she wasn't studying.
"Because I'm just gonna get an F anyway."
"Why would you say that?"
"Because I am."
"Well maybe you can learn something in the next five minutes and get a D at least."
“I doubt it. I don’t even have any notes to study from.”
When she handed in her exam thirty minutes later, she’d only answered half of the questions. (And it was a multiple choice test.) She’d spent most of test-time doodling on the back of the exam. (I took a picture of her doodles, and I will post it here when blogger decides it likes me again and lets me post more pictures.)
“Don’t you want to at least guess the rest of the answers?” I asked her.
I couldn’t make her guess. So I tried to engage her. We started talking. And then we had the following conversation, which isn’t an example of me “making a difference” in this young woman’s life, it’s just a funny conversation that could only have been had with a teenager and I’m typing out as verbatim as I can remember it:
“Mr. Patterson, did you hear about the guy who died because he poured cement up his butt?”
"Yeah, there were these two guys--they were, you know, like, lovers? Like, gay lovers? And one of them had this thing for cement so he asked his lover to pour cement in his butt and then he died because he couldn't, like, poop."
"Do you really think that happened?"
"It's a true story. It happened to this friend of a friend of mine."
“I don’t know.”
“What, you don’t believe me?”
"I just find the story highly illogical. Why wouldn't he go to the hospital?"
"Because he died."
"Okay, but--do you watch Survivor?"
"You know, the television show."
"Is that where they're all in the jungle?"
"Yeah, and they're trying to survive. It's a reality show."
"Well there was this guy Bruce on the show. He got all blocked up and he didn't poop for two weeks and he had to leave the show to go to the hospital."
"So see--you could die from not pooping!"
"But he didn't die."
"But this guy died."
"What I'm trying to say is, you wouldn't die overnight from not being able to poop. You could live for a few weeks, you'd just get really sick. The reason I think your story is just an urban legend is--why wouldn't the guy go to the hospital? He would have gone to the hospital."
"He was embarrassed."
"Okay, fine, if you want to believe it--"
"It happened, Mr. Patterson."