Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Asphinctersayswhat?

After working with teenagers for over 15 years, I’d like to think I can usually tell when one of them decides to mess with me. It wasn’t always like that. I’ve been on the butt end of one of their jokes more than once. I remember one time where it got me called into the Principal’s office. I was working at a high school in a remote part of the island; an area with the highest poverty and highest substance abuse rates. I worked in a program for high risk teens that was an adjunct to the high school. The first year was fairly rough, but I weathered the storm and eventually was accepted. I started a creative writing program within my teaching of English there. These students who had seen and experienced more hardship in their brief young lives than most adults will ever have to; they had some very compelling stories to tell. And they could write poetry and narratives that could break your heart.

I started a creative writing “magazine” that we printed quarterly. It was mostly for the program, so the kids could read each other’s stuff. But I also gave copies to all the admin and counselors. One day I got called to the Principal’s office. She was a pit bull of a woman. Straight-up talker. But she had a soft spot for the kids from tough lives and she was very supportive of the program. She had the magazine open to the “dedications” page. (The students had suggested this page. It was mostly teen stuff, in teen shorthand, like, “2DZBFFS4EVAH.”)

The Principal pointed to one of the dedications, and when I say point I mean jabbed her finger at it with each word she spoke to me.

What the hell is this?? Do you want to get us slapped with sexual harassment??

I looked at it. 2DAGRLSMYBOTOEECHI

I tried to decipher it aloud. “To the girls. My bowtochi?” I guess it’s some kind of endearment?

The Principal’s eyes widened. She slapped her hand on the desk. POW! She asked me how long I’d been in Hawaii and I told her 15 years. She shook her head. Then she told me to get one of the girls that I could trust to proofread the dedications page. That if something like that made it in again, no more dedications page.

I couldn’t not ask. So I did. She looked me dead in the eye and enunciated each word.

It says, To da girls. My boto itchy. BOTO IS SAMOAN FOR BALLS, BUT IT CAN ALSO MEAN THE WHOLE PACKAGE.

Oh.

So anyway. It’s been awhile since something like that happened to me. Plus my own two kids are teens now and my son usually has a couple friends hanging around our house. My kids help me from being blindsided at work by keeping me up on the latest expressions.

Yesterday my students were working independently during the second half of the class. Two of the boys came up to me. These are not jokesters. They are not super cool or popular. They’re regular kids. One of them says to me, “Miss, what’s a sphincter?”

Then they both look at me expectantly. I narrow my eyes at them and try to figure out if they are messing with me. I’m not sure how they got to this. The novel they are reading does NOT have the word sphincter in it.

Go look it up I say.

They are gone for about five minutes and then they are back. They claim to have looked it up and still don’t know. In retrospect, I think that they could not figure out the spelling of the first letters and therefore were not successful.

Didn’t you ever see Wayne’s World? I ask them.

Yeah. That’s what so-and-so and I were just talking about. “A sphincter says what?” Everyone always laughs at that and neither of us ever got it.

What to do. What to do. A cursory glance around the room. All the students are busy in their pair readings with their study guides. No one seems to be fixed, even surreptitiously, on my reaction.

I stick my arm out and point to my forearm.

You know how most of the muscles in your body are long, like the muscles that go from your wrist to your elbow?

The two boys nod.

Well, a sphincter is a round muscle.

They both look at me with complete and I’m pretty sure genuine looks of utter confusion.

Like what?

That’s as far as I’m going with this. Figure it out. What round muscle would your female teacher be uncomfortable talking about with a couple of male students?

They both had the cartoon light bulb go off over their heads. One of them actually blushed and then they walked away.

But I’m a little worried that they think a vagina is a muscle and still don’t know what a sphincter is.

14 comments:

Lo said...

hahahaha o lordy that was hilarious. that would be me if i was ever insane enough to take control of a room of 15 yr olds. kudos to you for doing it so calmly!!

only a movie said...

Good answer. Maybe print out the definition from dictionary.com and discreetly give to one or both of them.

I had a similar situation a couple of years ago. Very tall charismatic kid who switched to Spanish when he became upset. He called one of the girls a "dirty whore" and assumed nobody could understand. I just looked up from my desk and said "I used to teach in a bilingual school". Then he flipped out: "Miss (he used to call me that) knows Spanish, Miss knows Spanish! Oh no, I'm in trouble now!"
If only it were true that the worst of his offenses were calling female peers horrible names... or if he really felt that he was "in trouble" for me noticing. He was a memorable student and I really really hope he's not in jail now...

Oops, sorry for the post-long comment!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Lo - thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. And yes, working with teenagers is sometimes crazy stuff.

Hi Erin. I like the long comment. Some of my students from that program ended up in jail. I hear in the news or the grapevine occasionaly. But some are workingin the community and always happy to run into me. They make those years worth it.

thistle said...

Not being able to spell sometimes does hold one back from being able to learn certain important things...like the difference between a sphincter and a vagina LOL...

this is a funny post, i had to stifle my giggles cos when i read it the first time my stupid boss was in the next room flirting with...uh, i mean...counselling a client...cos she has a psychology degree, after all...

sorry, i'm letting some of my issues creep into the light aren't i...shutting up now...

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Oh and Erin - the kids over here use Miss and Mister all the time. I've been here so long I wasn't sure if it's a Hawaii thing or a modern thing.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Hi Thistle. Don't want to encourage you but I am looking forward to little snippets about your work.

smiles4u said...

Oh my, this is something that would happen to me. I think it's really awesome though that you put together this book with the things that they have written. The english teacher at the alternative school that I work at does this also. I love reading it and the kids are always pretty proud of it.

I think it's great that your a teacher and what a wonderful influence you get to have on all these young people. I have great respect for teachers...and not just because my daughter is one or that I work at a school!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

smiles - one great thing about working with kids is everyday is different and unpredictable. Your daughter is infor a fun ride.

Middle Aged Woman said...

Ah. Here in Motown, one of them would have been wearing a hoodie. You would have been able to demonstrate with the drawstring.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

MAW - Funny how your acronym came out... anyway, funny stuff.

Kristan said...

Not going to lie, I didn't remember what it was until you explained the round muscle part...

But yeah, haha, I don't feel completely confident that they got it either (especially if they looked it up and couldn't figure it out).

The dedications page prank was kinda clever, though...

Captain Dumbass said...

Hahahah! I least they had the guts to ask.

*jean* said...

okay i almost shot coffee out my nose on that one....toooo funny! bless your heart for dealing with teenagers every day....i still say my high school creative writing teacher saved my life by teaching me about journaling....

Surfie said...

You get a lot of cool points for thinking of such an appropriate way to answer their question! I don't think I'd have been able to come up with such a great way to answer that. Very funny post.