A Tale of a First-Year Teacher
“What Have You Done Did Now?”
Isaiah Shaver* was what we called a two-for. Teachers would take on two kids to get a two-for off their roster. Isaiah’s reputation was so bad, teachers would have taken three or four students to keep him out of their classroom. I was a first-year teacher and didn’t know about this unofficial system of negotiation, so I ended up with Isaiah Shaver, along with 33 other kids, in my 8th period language arts class. Let me say up front, I was doing the best I could in a very difficult situation.
In seventh grade, many of the boys have hit puberty and look like young men, but some still look like little fourth graders. Andre’ Alexander* was one of those still-little boys, and I loved him.
The day after Halloween, the story spread quickly. Andre’ had a little dog named Silver. On Halloween night, Isaiah spray painted Andre’s dog, Silver, silver. The dog died, of course. Even for Isaiah, that crossed a line. I, too, crossed a line that week.
It was hard to look at Isaiah after the Silver incident. Andre’ and Isaiah were both in the same class which made matters even more difficult.
Isaiah was in rare form on what I now call the “what-have-you-done-did day.” Every time I would turn to write something on the board, Isaiah would squeal like a pig. I ignored it at first, but the oinking and squealing continued.
I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t mean to do it, but the words just fell right out of my mouth, “Isaiah, quit imitating your mother.” I felt like the bully that time. I wanted to take it back, but you know what they say about words being like toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube.
My heart was pounding, and my face turned red. I knew I had messed up. I kept teaching, but was thankful when the bell finally rang. My little Andre’ hung back. “Oh, Mizz Davis, what have you done did now?”
The next morning an upset Andre’ found me in the courtyard with a message, “Isaiah and his mama coming after you.” I told Andre’ I was sure I would be ok. That was my first lie of the day.
Before I could get attendance turned in, the Vice-Principal showed up at my door with someone to cover my class so I could go meet with her, Isaiah, and Isaiah Shaver’s mother in the office. Beads of sweat were rolling down my body. I was going to apologize and take the consequence. That’s what I always told my students to do – own it and move on. That was the plan.
As I listened to Isaiah tell the story exactly as it happened, something came over me. I am not proud of what I did next. I looked that mother dead in the eyes and lied, “Mrs. Shaver, I don’t know why Isaiah would say such a thing. That’s not how it happened at all.” I began to implement a plan I didn’t even know I had.
“If I had said such a thing the whole class would have heard it so it should be easy to prove or disprove. Let’s take my roster and start calling the kids in one by one.” The Vice-Principal looked very confused. She knew Isaiah was telling the truth. I’m sure she wondered why I would call in 32 eye witnesses, but I knew something she didn’t know. I knew the first name on my roster – Andre’ Alexander. After the Halloween incident, there wasn’t a kid in that class who would take Isaiah’s side.
I handed the Vice-Principal my green, spiral-bound gradebook with the page flipped open to eighth period. She spotted Andre’s name at the top and her face changed. She, too, had heard about the Silver incident. The minute she said Andre’ Alexander’s name out loud, something shifted with Mrs. Shaver. I seized the opportunity to seal that deal. I said something like “Mrs. Shaver, if Isaiah thought I said something disrespectful to you, I apologize.”
That was the right thing to do.
And then I looked at that kid that I really, really did not like and said the same thing to him, “Isaiah, if you thought I was disrespectful to your mother, I apologize.” That was a hard thing to do, but that was enough. Thank goodness, that was enough.
The Vice-Principal wrapped up the meeting, and I went back to class. My arms and legs felt like Jello.
When my eighth-period kids piled into the portable, Andre’ looked relieved to see that I was still standing. Isaiah sulked and sucked his teeth the whole time. I was ok with that.
Isaiah didn’t make it to Christmas. I wasn’t surprised or sad that he was gone.
Thirty years later, and I still hate to think about that little dog Silver. I am still sorry those words came out of my mouth, and I regret manipulating the situation.
Teachers want to be perfect every minute of every day, but they are not. They are human, and they make mistakes. I’m certainly not proud of the quit-squealing-like-your-mama incident, but overall, I’m proud of the work I did with those children that year.
I taught hard and the kids worked hard and learning took place. Nobody ever made farm-yard noises in class again, and I never, ever insulted anybody’s mama.
*names changed for privacy