[Editor's Note: Shea Serrano sometimes writes about Why This Song Sucks, and sometimes about his hilarious and poignant life and times. Better put your shoes on because your socks are about to be blown off.]
School has been in for four weeks already. I teach at an inner city middle school in Houston. I've been there for eight years. In a lot of ways, each year is the same. And in a lot of ways, each year is different.
The most compelling different thing this year: The Lunchfast Club.
Kids (and teachers) get a 30 minute lunch break each day. My kids (and I) take theirs (mine) from 12:25 to 12:55. Mostly, this has always been a time of silence for me. I spend all morning walking around checking papers over shoulders or guiding kids through experiments, so there's no shortage of Q&Aing to be done. Not lunch though. There's correspondence, mind you --I avoid getting on my computer or phone during class, so lunch is my time to check emails and messages--but it's always been done in the beautiful quiet. Until this year.
For reasons I still don't completely understand, there are five kids that come to my class and eat and hangout everyday during lunch. (I made a Lunchfast Club joke and NOBODY got it. It's become it's own joke now.) They've been doing it every day for the last two weeks. I don't suspect it has to do with their unending appreciation of valence electrons (there was a day that I was attending an off-campus training so there was an alternate teacher in there and they still came), but I don't really question it. I'm glad they're there because they might otherwise be somewhere else doing something they shouldn't be done (they're a bit of a rough group).
The Quiet One: The first day he came he said it was because he didn't want to get into a fight with a boy in the cafeteria that day. Once he realized that the other kids that were in my room were there of their own will (and not because they'd been banished there for Lunch Detention), he decided he'd let himself into the group. Mostly, he just comes in, picks at a bag of chips, listens to his headphones and draws, for which he already has a sparkling reputation around school. He's a hard worker and a respectful kid. Were I to have a classroom full of hims, we'd be just fine.
Note: At the beginning of the year, I have all of the kids fill out this questionnaire. One of the questions is about what they're good at it. On his he wrote that he was good at fighting and drawing and keeping to himself. He's the most self-aware kid I've ever met in my life.
The Loud One: The Loud One is exactly that: loud. I'm not sure he's ever stopped talking. He's in my homeroom, and now he comes to me for lunch and I also see him after school each day while I stand outside on duty making sure kids don't fight. One day he told me a 20 minute story about a time he got punched in the junk. He laughed the entire time. He's likable.
Note: Turned out, he's the kid that The Quiet One was trying to avoid fighting in the cafeteria the first day that he came to my class for lunch. The Loud One seems unaware of the irony.
The Louder One: The Louder One is an extra charming tower of a kid. (He's probably already 5'9" or 5'10", which is pretty impressive for a 14-year-old.) He's on the yearbook staff and participates in after school programs and is just generally a good kid. He's very smart and very clever. He told me one day that his friend had gotten into a fight recently. When I asked him why, he hedged. He didn't want to give up any crucial information. After pestering him for a bit he said, "Fine, Mr. Serrano. You want me to tell you? They were arguing about protons, neutrons and electrons. One said that protons and electrons are always the same and the other said that protons and neutrons were always the same so they fought to see who was right. Unfortunately, the girl who said protons and neutrons are always the same won. I know that's not true but those were the rules of the fight."
The Second-In-Command: She's the deputy of the group. She's supposed to be hell in her other classes, but I've only ever known her as good student. She has braces and a lip ring, which is only occasionally problematic. I hope that she's able to avoid the principal's office this year. She has brains in her head. I'd like to see her put them to use here and not an alternative school.
The Boss In the Game: The Boss is the boss. All of the kids seem to follow her, even if they don't realize it. She's lived a harder life than most. I won't get into the distasteful specifics, save to say that she has mostly navigated her way to where she is now guided by instinct rather than proper adult guidance. She's built herself a job selling cookies and candy in the parking lot of a gas station because that's just the sort of thing she has to do. She is remarkably mature and, were I to guess, completely capable of surviving in the world without anything besides her own sense of self. (One day she chastised a girl for not taking care of her phone, remarking that she'd "appreciate it more if it wasn't just given to you.")
My favorite moment: One day during lunch The Louder One was talking to her about a failed attempt he'd had at managing a group of kids during a science experiment (each kid was given a role and his was Leader). I was sitting at my desk and they were at the other end of the room but, again, HE'S LOUD, so it was easy to hear what was going on. After he'd expressed his concern, she told him, "Man, look. When you're in charge, you just gotta be the pimp in the game." He responded back, "But they wouldn't listen to me!" She stopped eating, looked at him, shrugged her shoulders and shrugged her lips, then revealed, "Then that makes you the bitch in the game." I wanted to stand up and clap but I just sat there and pretended not to hear.
I'm excited for this year --a healthy portion of my students mostly seem eager and curious, which is a solid combination of traits for any student to have, regardless of capability.
But now I'm excited for lunch too.
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