Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Handshake in the Public School

How many students what to play "adult"?

I do not blame many students who want more for their lives than to be told what to do and where to go and why they should be studying what they are studying.

How many times would students approach from the first moment to shake my hand?

I do remember one kid, though. He never behaved in class, no matter what was going on. But he was more than happy to shake my hand when he saw me at one of the basketball games after school.

I never knew what to take away after running into that kid -- Walt was his name. He liked to ditch his assigned classes and hide out in other rooms. Once he forged a note from the attendance office just to sit in on a Spanish class. In a drama class that I was covering a month later, he tried to hide and kick it with some of his friends. When I finally caught on to his "playing classroom hooky", he scampered off just quickly enough that security just missed him once I called them.

I will never forget the larger kid I first met when I was long-term subbing (and sinking fast). He came in the first day and shook my hand, I guess supposing that I was going to be the hero that made that class worth attending. A shame that I could get very little done from the first day, mostly because I was fending off the tsunami of reproach in a high school suffused with the culture of disrespect.

No way to row up against a current designed to eat up the best and spit out the worst.

Yet here was this big junior, who did little work, who "liked me" for whatever reason, perhaps because I was the only teacher willing to hang on for six weeks to try to make something happen at that school.

This kid showed up late, did no work, even when in class, supposedly had an Individual Education Plan, yet made excuses and gave me a hard time, as most kids do, when I called home and told his parents to make sure that he got to class on time as opposed to thirty minutes after the tardy bell.

This kids rooted for me throughout the entire six weeks, I guess hoping for me to suddenly turn from a worm into a butterfly, from a substitute to Jaime Escalante. Didn't happen -- because deep down inside, I just did not want the job.

The handshake in the public school: an adolescent's attempt to play adult, I suppose. I remember also this squat Asian kid, a sophomore who had divulged to me that he got caught selling drugs, went to a Community Day School, then worked his way back into the public school system, where I was working that day. I do recall that he saw me tear one student severely for rampant disrespect, enough that when I saw him again at the same high school a week later, he just shook my hand, no questions asked.

The handshake in the public school from the younger set -- does not really mean much, especially from the middle school students, unless of course they are high achievers to begin with and want to display themselves with greater panache. The first time that a student shook my hand, it was a gawky, awkward eighth grade boy, someone who wanted to play himself up as courageous, strong, able to be something more than a quiet kid sitting at the front of the room.

He turned about to be a snide student in a way when I came back to the room and taught a lesson the next week. He started asking me inappropriate questions which had nothing to do  with what I was supposed to be teaching that day. So much for pretending to be an adult!

The worst handshake that I ever received, though, did not come from a student, but from an administrator, a principal who did not support my authoritative ways and preferred to accept the opinion of the entitled students and the irate parents. He grabbed my hand with one firm handshake, followed by a long tirade, full off sputter and supposition. This administrator was in way over his head, and he easily took it out on me, the first year teacher who had no tenure, who could not hide behind union power to protect me from the big, bad principal and conniving, colluding parents. He gave me a firm handshake before yelling at me, just going through the motions of politesse, I guess.

The handshake, like so much in public schools, is mere pretense and formality with nothing of merit or integrity behind it all.

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