7:25 a.m.: Unlock classroom door for a dozen teenage GSA queers, one of whom is weeping because she “just can’t take the drama anymore.” Comfort her while taking care not to make any physical contact. Let queers start Hot Cheetos party while I check voice and e-mail (both full. Grades are due today).
7:51 a.m.: Two girls come by to ask if they can do a “big extra-credit thing or whatever” in order to avoid failing my class. Final grades are due a week from today. I say no, because they each have a half-dozen extant missing assignments and are running a 23% and a 17%, respectively. They sigh and shuffle towards the door.
7:56 a.m. A student comes by — he won the scholarship I recommended him for! We high-five and get teary. Someday, he’ll be my heart surgeon or my tax attorney. No one wants to major in English anymore.
8:00 a.m.: Bell rings. Six students are in their seats. I start explaining what we’re going to do today: Theme vs. motif!
8:01-8:12 a.m.: Fifteen more students wander in. They shuffle their bags and phones around, and chatter back and forth until I stop what I’m doing and tell them it’s time to focus.
8:14 a.m.: I finish explaining the day’s task. Students start working, but a confluence of hormones and distracting technology causes them to stop every 1.5 minutes to ask what they’re supposed to be doing. Here’s how they preface their questions: “Miss? Miss? MISS?” I refrain from responding with, “I AM 37 YEARS OLD. I HAVE A CAT AND THREE SWEATERS THAT ARE OLDER THAN YOU. I HAVE SPILLED MORE MARIJUANA THAN YOU WILL EVER SMOKE. DO NOT REFER TO ME AS ‘MISS.”
8:59 a.m.: First period leaves. Second period arrives. Rinse and repeat. One kid in the front is peering at me from between his thumb and forefinger, making a pinching motion. What the fuck? Oh. He’s crushing my head.
9:41 a.m.: A girl breaks down in tears as I’m explaining the difference between “theme” and “motif” (because it’s Friday, the kids’ brains repel this information like Scotchguard repels cat puke — willfully and well). I take her into the hall, thinking don’tbepregnant don’tbepregnant pleasedon’tbepregnant. She’s not. She’s upset because her grandfather has been taken hostage by the Mexican Mafia. I don’t know how to respond to this except to say, “Maybe it’ll be OK?” I try to give her my full attention but can’t, because through my classroom window I see kids taking out their phones. They are MARRIED to those goddamn phones. Phones are severely Not Allowed, and my principal does frequent stop-ins. I fantasize about confiscating the phones, setting them on fire in the middle of my classroom, and making the kids watch the pile burn.
10:28: I have to pee. I have to pee. I have to pee. But I can’t leave until the bell rings.
10:35: Lunchtime! I pee with grateful fervor, then try to work up some enthusiasm for a tuna sandwich at this hour. Ech. I turn off the lights and hide in a corner so no one will come in and talk to me about grades.
11:03: Fourth period. The kids come in smelling like corn dogs. No fewer than four of them interrupt me as I’m trying to start class: “What did I miss yesterday? I wasn’t in school because I stayed home sick/had a chorus performance/was visiting my Nana in the hospital/thought it was Saturday.” I ask them to check the “What Did I Miss Yesterday? notebook, labeled as such and conveniently located at eye level at the front of the classroom. At this very moment, in other countries, people their age are marrying, gainfully employed, and raising their own children.
11:58: Fire drill. Fuck. As I gather them up like ducklings — “Can I take my phone?” “Are we coming back?” “Is the building on fire?” “MISS? MISS?” I realize that I won’t be able to get them back on task when we return to class. And that I’m going to have to surreptitiously spot-check hands for fire alarm ink spray.
Next, in Part II: One Afternoon in the Life of a High School Teacher: I am observed by the State Department of Education whilst running a 103-degree fever.