“Miss, you know you have love handles?” a girl is following me around the room as I hand out papers. She actually felt the need to rise from her seat and trail me in order to ensure that I hear her. I was actually feeling pretty good about how I looked today – for once – a dress that I couldn’t imagine revealed flaws to any extent that required that she point them out to myself and the class.
“Miss Klein, you hear me? You know you have love handles. That’s bad. They look really bad.” She repeated herself, determined to give me an eating disorder.
Later in the day, another one of my lovely students gets annoyed with me.
“Your face is ugly – all white and it gets red and you so ugly, miss.”
On, and on, and on.
“Shut up – why you always talking to me? You think I want to hear your dumb voice?”
“Miss – you did a bad job of explaining this!”
“Miss Klein, this is stupid.”
“You gained weight Miss.”
“Those pants are ugly, why you wearing those ugly pants?”
“Why do you think we need to learn this, why you teaching us this?”
I must have done something horrible to deserve this – karma wouldn’t allow this to be what my days are like unless I did something to deserve it.I took a boys ipod from him and he told me he would ‘deck me’, and he would ‘f-ing kill me’ and then, when we decided to be more realistic in his threats, he declared that he was ‘gonna call my sister to come wash you up.’ If someone washed you up, suffice it to say that you lost the fight.
Before I began to teach, my middle school swim coach and gym teacher gave me some advice. He had been teaching in a city middle school for many years, and I took his words to heart.
Drink every weekend.
Be friends with your colleagues
Don’t take it personally.
Drinking isn’t a problem, though sometimes it’s hard to contain it to the weekends as he suggested. And my boyfriend started as a colleague, so fraternizing hasn’t proved to be too painful either. But not taking it personally is always a struggle. I have to make an effort not to hear them, to rationalize their words. It’s not that they hate me – they hate their lives, they hate school, they hate that they are 14 and can’t read, they hate that this test is hard or that they have to sit still, or that they didn’t get breakfast. They hate their dad that left or their mom who is never home, or their little cousin who gets all the attention and keeps them up all night. They hate the kids with nicer clothes, and the cliques that leave them out. They hate – but they don’t’ hate me. So I put on my newly acquired ipod and tune out their words, hoping that I’ll forget them by tomorrow.