Conversations I'm Tired of Having: The Mobius Strip

Me: Where's your notebook?
Joe Student: I don't have it.
Me: Where is it?
Joe: I don't have it.
Me: I know you don't have it. I'm asking where it is.
Joe: I didn't bring it.
Me: Yes, obviously. Why not?
Joe: Because.
Me: Because is not an answer. WHY didn't you bring it?
Joe: (shoulder shrug plus eye roll)
Me: You don't know?
Joe: Gawhd! Just forget it!
Me: I would just like to know why it is you didn't bring your notebook. Do you have a pencil?
Joe: No.
Me: Why not?
Joe: Forgot it.
Me: But how did you make it through five classes today without anything to write on or write with? Am I the first teacher to ask you to do some work today?
Joe: Man, why do you have to make such a big deal out of EVERYTHING? Just quit talking and go teach.

At this point, I consider my options. Smacking the kid across the mouth with the back of my hand would be the most immediately satisfying action, but carries with it the very slight risk of being fired and/or arrested for assault. I say "very slight" because obviously I would do it when no one else is looking and lie about it afterward. I realize, too, that I might leave a red handprint on his smug mug and I have failed to plan for this inevitable and all-too-frequent moment by leaving all my oranges and socks and home. A quick mental scan of my other options is rudely interrupted by Jiminy Cricket (well, my conscience is actually a talking cockroach named Vincent who now insists on being called Vinny-C since he started watching "Jersey Shore," but this is a story for another time). The point is, I am jarred into reality by a wad of paper flying through my peripheral vision and I remember that I am a teacher, and I value my job and my reputation, and (sigh) I like my kids. Even this one. Yeah, he's a brat. But maybe when he's no longer 15 and wearing his pants down under his butt crack he could turn out alright. And I want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. He's here; I might as well give him something to do. So I walk over to my desk, pull out a pencil and sheet of paper, shove my ego into the bottom drawer next to the three-hole punch, and walk back to my unprepared, would-be, could-be, young scholar . I place the items on his desk, force a smile, and say, "Okay, let's get started."

How does it end? Does he thank me and get to work? Or fly out of the room in a flurry of righteous indignation while cursing a blue streak? Or roll his eyes and sit in motionless defiance for the rest of the class? Well, that depends. It depends on something. And when I figure out what that "something" is, I will write a book about working with urban adolescents to overcome their task avoidance and self-defeating behaviors. I expect that will make me rich or famous or both. And even though I'll be rolling in the dough, I will keep teaching, because it's a labor of love for me. But I'll tell you this: Joe Smartmouth had better watch his tone, because with my high-paying speaking gigs and the royalty checks from my book coming in, I will be able to afford a VERY good lawyer.

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