Excerpt from my first day substitute teaching at the Academy of Environmental Science in el barrio, NYC, 11/14/11. It’s a chemistry class taught by their TFA teacher, Danny.
There are about 30 students now in the room, a few at their desks. There’s a group of boys hanging around a circular table in the back. I decide to walk over to them.
“Hi, guys.” They keep talking. One or two notice me. “Guys. Hi.” I’m smiling, not yelling. One of them decides to officially notice me.
“Yo. She’s trying to talk. Shut the fuck up.”
“You shut the fuck up.” Another friend of his folds his arms.
“Guys, listen. You don’t have to ‘shut the ‘f’ up. I just want to say hi.” I speak quietly with a little smile.
“Yo! Yo heard what she said? Miz! You cursed.”
“Naah. I just said ‘f’.” Two boys go back to their conversation.
“Hey! Yo. Shut up, nigga. The teacher’s trying to talk to us.”
“Thanks so much,” I smile at my defender. The boys all turn to me. “OK. So my name is Ms. Rose or ‘Yo Miz’. Call me either one.”
“Yo! You heard what she said? We can call her Yo Miz.”
“Right. Now the thing is, Danny wants you guys to do this chemistry thing and I’m supposed to let you know that.”
“Yeah. Yeah. We good. We know what he wants.” One of the boys turns back to his pals. “So…would you mind taking your seats? If I can’t get you guys in your seats, I’m gonna look pretty bad.”
“Yo nigga! Siddown. You gonna get her in trouble.” Miraculously, they start to head towards their desks.
“YO NIGGAS!!!” A tall boy wearing a do rag on his head bounds into the room, yelling at the boys in the cluster. Let’s say his energy is measurable on the Richter scale. The boys in the cluster all turn to him and instantly they form a multi-hydra-headed monster. My hopes for getting this class settled down? Dashed.
“Hi. I’m Ms. Rose,” I walk over and say to the back of his do rag. I walk around him, hoping to catch his eye. He turns away, completely ignoring me.
“So, guys,” I try to get a word in but the newly formed reptilian beast is heavily invested in gyrating and fist slapping
“OK. I’m going to take attendance,” I announce. A few girls in front of the class look up but all the others are gossiping. The pulsating creature begins to bellow with some high decibel emissions. I know what I have to do. I walk over to the classroom door and open it. I stand in the doorway, hoping to see another adult, preferably of some authority.
“Hey, Miz. Whaddya doin’?” one of the boys yells over to me.
“Just looking for some assistance.”
“Close the door, Miz.”
“Naah, I’m chill,” I say. Just then a thin, gray-haired man walks around the corner. “Excuse me,” I say to him. “I’m the substitute teacher for this class. I have a group of boys I’m concerned about. Particularly that one.” I point to the do rag. He nods his head. He completely gets it. Without missing a beat, he walks over to the kid.
“Come with me. Let’s go.”
“I ain’t movin’.” The do rag is defiant.
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I ain’t.” He folds his arms.
“Fine. Then you’re facing suspension. This time it will be for as long as a week. You’re on the line. Close to getting a principal’s suspension. Is that what you want? Or would you just prefer to come with me.”
“Aiight…aiight, Mista. I’m comin’. Yo! Laata.” He bids his crew farewell and steps out with the man.
“Yo Miz. Why you gotta call the dean?”
“That’s the dean? I didn’t know that. Cool, dontcha think?”
“Yo Miz. You didn’t hafta do that.”
“I did what I have to do. Now you have the assignment. Do what you have to do. Aiight?”