There is a girl in my class who is a little bit out of her mind. I’ve taught her for two years, and won't hesitate to say that she is truly nuts. She knows it, I know it, her mother knows it, and the rest of the school absolutely knows it. Her name is Alex. She is tall, pretty, and entirely erratic. The administration doesn’t reprimand or correct her for fear of her reaction, and most teachers would rather allow the outrageous things that she does slide than risk an explosive confrontation. 'Picking your battles' with her generally entails not picking any battles.
Last year she threw a full water bottle at a teacher, calling her a ‘skinny b**ch’. She mutters under her breath - long, angry rants. At her science teacher, who she really despises, she will scream repeatedly that she hates her. ‘I hate this teacher, this class is boring that’s why I hate this teacher, she so skinny, she’s a b***h, she’s just mad because her mother don’t feed her.’
For some reason, Alex likes me. This in no way makes me exempt from her tantrums. She tells me she 'hates me to my guts', she asks me to 'shut up,' she tells me to leave her alone. She breaks rules that it wouldn’t even occur to most people to break – rules I wouldn’t even think were worth breaking. She operates with complete and utter disregard for the school rules, systems, and procedures. She comes and goes from class as she pleases, she trespasses on the property of the elementary school that we share a building with, she fights with her friends and her enemies alike.
Last year, she was the cause of my worst day, which says a lot when you compare it to the many bad days that preceded it in the year. We were taking a final in the Spring. The class was unusually compliant, all sitting in silence, taking the exam seriously.
“Miss, I need help,” she said.
“What do you need, Alex?” I asked
“Sex.” She replied casually.
“Okay….how about something that I can help you with?”
She came to the front of the room and looked for a pencil in her bag. Not finding one, she stood, walked over to a small boy, and punched him in his face. The provocation for this remains unknown, but because it was SUCH a good day and everyone else was being SO good, I decided that rather than handle it in the class, as I had learned to do, I would call for security to remove her so that the students could finish the test.
As I picked up the phone, she grew enraged and began screaming at me.
“I’ll kill you, I’m gonna come to your house and kill you. I’m gonna trash your car and your boyfriend’s car and your house.” I remained calm, as these outbursts were unnerving but not entirely out of the ordinary. I told her to sit down, and she took desks and began to flip them over. She took chairs and threw them across the classroom. She took every book off of the shelves and threw them on the floor, before knoccking over the bookshelves. I called security again, and no one came. I called the principal, and the administration, and was unable to reach anyone. I went next door and got another teacher to come help, but when she came, Alex cursed at her and told her to shut up. Two other teachers came and left, trying to get her out, failing, and leaving to find security.
Alex unplugged the phone from my wall, and smashed it on the floor, taking the broken parts and hiding them around the room. She broke into my locker and began filling her pockets with my things. She flipped over the trash can onto the floor. At this point Mr. M came upstairs to my room and saw the mayhem. I stood in front of the door telling Alex to return my things to the locker before leaving the room. She pushed me out of the way and disappeared.
This was the first, and only time that I cried in school. This wasn’t really the worst thing that had happened all year, it was mainly a culmination of many many crazy, unbelievable incidents that made me feel overwhelmed and unqualified and alone. I was outraged that no one had come to help, that for 15 minutes this had been allowed to go on.
I went to her suspension hearing, and her mother’s only question to me was about how exactly her daughter had pushed me.
“You SAY my daughter pushed you…but did she shove you with her body, or did she use her hands, because there’s a big difference you know.” This question shouldn’t have surprised me. Earlier in the year a girl had cursed me out and told me she was going to slit my throat. When her mother came in, her primary concern had been whether she used the f-word, or just called me a white b****, because in the hierarchy of profanity, one is much worse than the other.
Needless to say, Alex wasn’t punished; she was suspended for 2 days. To top it off, she was placed back in my class this year. Still outrageous, she’s less destructive than she was in the past. I now teach her for 5 periods a day, and she generally shows up for no more than 2. She’s essentially illiterate, writing pages and pages of indecipherable nonsense. Some days she is highly agreeable, coming in, sitting down, taking copious notes. Other days she puts her headphones on, and curses me out if I ask her to take them off. She makes racist comments all the time, quickly laughing and apologizing, assuring me that in fact she likes white people. She cheats as though there is no rule against it, and is aghast when she continues to fail.
I dreaded having her. I complained that after the incident at the end of last year I shouldn’t have to have her. I mentioned her well-documented history of verbal and physical violence towards adults and students as a reason why she should perhaps not continue be in our school. The first month of school I avoided even going to any part of the room that she was in. But then, slowly, I overcame it. I got over how much I disliked her, and how angry I was that she was in my class. I tried to teach her.
She’s still failing and she’s still in the wrong setting. She needs a one-to-one ratio of teacher to student to keep her in check. I’m probably not making any difference in her life at all. But in some way, I’d like to think she’s taught me. By forcing me to face her every day and not get worn down or upset, she's tested and pushed me in a way that no other student has. In some small way, hopefully, the act of surviving her has helped me to grow.