My seventh grade teacher Mr. B got a message that he had to go down to The Office right away. What was so important it couldn't wait until the end of the school day, which was less than an hour away? I never found out. But I think we all know leaving a classroom of 28 12-year olds on their honor has a very predictable outcome.
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The kids who were going to be good were. The ones who were going to show out did. Mr. B’s shadow had barely cleared the door frame before The Resident Bad Boys were up out of their chairs, intoxicated with the freedom of moving without permission. They strutted around, talked loud, and acted like idiots. All in all, it was kid stuff. No furniture was heaved through windows. No fires were set. No one ran with scissors. The Bad Boys didn’t even have the temerity to disturb anything on Mr. B’s unguarded desk. I guess even they knew this would have been beyond the pale.
So, with The Bad Boys running amok and The Good Kids yelling at them to sit down and be quiet I’m sure Mr. B could hear us all the way in the office. When he walked back into the classroom he was angry. But worse than his anger was the look of disappointment on his face that seemed to say, “I trusted you guys and you blew it.”
Not all of us, my eyes pleaded back. You know that don’t you, Mr. B? But apparently he didn’t. He punished the entire class by making us stay after school and write 500 times: “I will not misbehave in class.” What! We Good Kids were aghast. “But we didn’t do anything!” we protested. But Mr. B was unmoved. And now I was angry. What exactly was the point of being good if you were going to be punished for something you didn’t do?
When the end-of-the-school-day bell rang I wanted to leave. My Mom was expecting my home straight away. But that’s one of the conundrums of being a kid. When two authority figures in your life each want you to do something different, who do you listen to? The one standing in front of you. But I really didn’t want to. Mr. B was usually a tough but fair teacher but I felt like he’d gotten this one way wrong.
I stayed but chose not to finish the assignment. I had gotten as far as number 40 and thought, “No. I’m not doing this.” I put down my pen, folded my arms, and refused to write another word. The other students, even The Bad Boys, gave me disbelieving side glances. It was one thing to defy authority behind its back but face to face? That’s madness yo.
The quasi-silence of 27 pens rapidly scratching across loose leaf paper was broken when my Mother unexpectedly strode in, angry and worried. The worry abated when she saw I was there and okay, but suddenly Mr. B began to look uncomfortable. You see my Mom had a bit of a reputation for being an involved parent. Curriculum reviewer, homework checker, parent-teacher conference attender, she was the Mama Bear you didn’t want to cross.
“Can I help you?”
“I came looking for my child. I’m glad she’s here. Now why is she here?”
Mr. B explained. My Mom looked at me for confirmation. (I love that about her. She would always ask me for my side of things. “Just tell me the truth,” she’d say “And I’ll defend you to the gates of hell.”)
She informed Mr. B that, being an educator herself, she understood his frustration but it was his job to teach and her job to raise. And for the amount of tuition she and my Dad were paying, busy work as punishment was unacceptable, and no her daughter would not be doing it. At her nod, I quietly gathered my things and followed her out, vindicated.
I’m sure this wasn’t part of the day’s lesson plan, but there were many real world lessons to be gleaned from this. I learned that life isn’t fair, and that The Many often pay for the transgressions of The Few. I learned that even when you’re right (most especially when you’re right) sometimes you’ll need someone to step in on your behalf and make it right. But outside of having a Mama Bear that almost never happens. So sometimes, right or wrong, you just gotta take a chance and get up out of your chair.