Friday, January 20, 2006

The Purple Stapler

An inner city teacher on a purple stapler pushing her over the edge...

"There are hundreds of reasons to freak out at work each day. Those who haven't spent much time in a South Bronx high school may think I'm exaggerating or stereotyping. Unfortunately, I'm not. My school's administration is in shambles. The school district is grossly neglecting the civil rights of students with learning disabilities. I have 17-year-old students who are reading and writing at a second grade level. Not because they're dumb (talk with them for a minute and you'll hear their wit), but because they never received help for learning problems ranging from dyslexia to autism. They are among the few teenagers in their situation who haven't dropped out...

Before today, I had remained relatively calm in the classroom. I would weep at home, vent to friends over the phone, laugh when I meant to cry, and stay up worrying at night. But for six months I managed to wake up each morning, take the painfully slow train up to the Bronx, and put on my game face in front of my students. I knew it couldn't last.

So today marks the day that I finally went loca en la cabeza in front of my students. I didn't snap over something worthy, like drugs or dropouts or a student telling me to f--k off. No. I, Miss Dennis, snapped over a stapler. A miniature purple stapler. It was missing, and I was mad...

When I discovered that the stapler was missing, I completely shut down my class and demanded to know who had taken it. I was on the verge of tears. My students stared at me in shock.

"Are you okay, Miss Dennis?"

"What's wrong Miss?"

"I'll tell you what's wrong! Look around this classroom. Look at all these books and posters and videos and markers. Do you know who bought these? I did! With my own money! That's right! The Board of Ed gives me nothing! Nothing! That was my purple stapler, and no one has the right to take it! That's it! I'm taking everything home with me."

I began pulling down and piling up everything I had bought with my own money. It wasn't quite true that the Board of Ed had given me nothing. I received $150 to spend on classroom supplies. Other teachers got $200, but the genius Board of Ed CFO decided that special education teachers should get 25% less than all other teachers. (Way to go, CFO. Way to motivate teachers in your highest need area to keep working for you.) So I got $150, which I spent on 10 copies of The House on Mango Street. I paid for the other 15 copies of the book myself. I've spent an estimated $550 on classroom supplies already this semester, and many teachers I know have spent much more. Clearly, my rage was not simply about the missing purple stapler.

I finished piling up all of my belongings as my students continued to look on in disbelief. As soon as I calmed down, I pathetically tried to salvage a lesson out of my tantrum...

"Stop playin'. You not really gonna' take all that home. You take the 6 train. I seen you yesterday. You can't take all that home on the 6 train."

He had a point, and it finally dawned on me how ridiculous I was acting.

"Miss, are you crying over a stapler?"

"Not just any stapler Joseph! My lovely, miniature purple stapler!"

Laughter, finally...

I had my suspicions about who'd stolen the stapler, but I knew no one would snitch. In high school (whether in the wealthiest of suburbs or the grittiest of inner city neighborhoods), there's nothing worse than a snitch.

But amazingly, after class, one by one, every single student came back to my classroom to show me where the purple stapler had been stashed -- in a desk drawer in the back of the classroom. Apparently, whoever had planned on stealing it couldn't go through with it after my tantrum. Even the toughest, most seemingly uncaring of students came back to the classroom to make sure I was reunited with my beloved stapler. One of them helped me put back all of the books, posters, videos and markers.

"I knew you were just playin' us Miss."

Right. It was all a big plan. "

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