Snap (v. trans.) (us. followed by “on”): To speak harshly to an inferior; to reprimand with an aggressive tone; to lay into; berate; put in one’s place; chew out. Usage: “He fi’n’ ta snap on you!” Ever since my first year or so teaching in Namibia, I have intentionally used yelling and aggressive tones of voice toward my students—no matter how seemingly well-justified—very rarely. I enjoy employing the calm and rational side of my personality more, and it seems more effective on a routine basis, anyway. My feeling, based especially on my first year of experience in the Peace Corps, is that yelling and slamming things very quickly loses its power and becomes a joke to the students. That said, I also recognize that among my black students in the Mississippi Delta, a student who otherwise ignores my warnings and acts in an argumentative, insubordinate manner will often shut up and listen respectfully as soon as I “snap on” him. I think it has to do with a difference between my white, middle-class culture, and their black, lower-class culture. The tone of voice, volume, and assertiveness in speaking can be more powerful in conveying the meaning of a reprimand than the actual words spoken. Sometimes I wonder if perfecting my timing and technique of snapping on students might be the next step in my evolution as a Mississippi Delta teacher. The Algebra I teacher next door to me, who is very well-respected around the school, seems to use the “snap” as her primary tool of classroom management. She has the ability to affect such an imperious, matriarchal tone of voice when she says, “Excuse me!” that her students very quickly fall into line. I know because I hear it through the wall during my planning period. However, I also know that snapping on students can be over-used. My students often complain about one of the English teachers for snapping on them too much, even on the students who are normally well-behaved, and I feel she loses some of the respect they otherwise feel for her because of it.
Because I am still not completely comfortable knowing when and how to “snap” for maximum effect—and because speaking so aggressively feels like a weakness to me, an ambiguous fit, if you will, to my conscience, experience, and personality—I plan to continue using gentle yet pointed verbal warnings and detention slips as the bread and butter of my classroom consequences. I most often call students to “step into my office” or “come sign your warm fuzzy note,” so as to speak to them as an aside. I find that more effective than writing naughty names on the board, as I did last fall, or bringing the detention slip to them at their desk, as I did last spring. When I am at the board and a student is talking out of turn, I sometimes even find myself saying, “Thank you, ________, for not talking while I’m talking!” No one can argue with that. The point is to lower the stakes of any potential confrontation; the issue is between me and that particular student, with less opportunity for the student to demonstrate their toughness to the rest of the class.
“Hobbes” (as I shall call him) is if one my most ridiculous students ever. First of all, he’s fat. The other students tease him for it, which I try my best to squelch, but honestly, he has such a jolly personality, he’s as likely as not just to laugh along with their teasing. He’s not ugly for it, just goofy-looking. Not only is he fat, but he’s hyper, and on top of that, he has a booming voice. The other funny thing is, he has this obsession with decorating things—from coloring his assignment with markers to papering the door for homecoming weekend—but he does a terrible job of it. He just over-does everything and makes it look untidy and cluttered. Again, the other students tease him for doing so much work to make something look so ugly. I just chuckle inwardly and let him do his thing. Honestly, I love him, but Hobbes can really be a bit of a handful because he is, as I say, quite energetic and loud, and like many students, he always seems to have to have the last word. He’s good at heart, though.
So I had an eventful Friday and Saturday. During fourth block, which often gets disrespected on Fridays, a student was called out for something or other to do with the band. It was Hobbes. He was gone quite awhile. When he finally returned to us in the computer lab, the period was mostly over, and he had a can of soda and a bag of chips in his hands. I told him not to come in with that stuff, but another student apparently asked him for the rest of his chips. So, without further ado, he grabbed the other student’s backpack and ran out the door! I went to have a word with him for leaving the classroom without permission, but just as I began to speak, he spotted another student down the hall, breathlessly asked permission to speak to him, and without waiting for a response, he ran down the hall to chat with the other student for about 30 seconds before returning to me. Well, when he got back to me, I really laid into him like never before. I let him know in no uncertain terms who his boss is when he gets in my class, and it sure as heck ain’t him. Every time he opened his mouth, I just raised my tone of voice another notch, and I let him know in every precise way how he was wrong. Then we went back into the lab, and after just one more mention of his name, he almost completely finished his assignment, despite being absent for a large chunk of the period. When another student in the room, who was apparently allowed to be in there, although she was not a part of my class, began to talk out of turn, her friend warned her, “Mr. A gonna snap on you!”
The principal was gone all week. Apparently his mother is on her death bed. So the halls have been a little less well-patrolled during class breaks. I spotted a former student of mine pushing a girl down the hall between third and fourth block, so I shouted his name and wagged my finger sternly at him until he let go. There was as a strange electricity in the air and a gathering crowd around the main hallway intersection. No other teacher was around at the time, so I did my best to shoo the students toward their classes and felt vaguely fortunate to do so without incident.
After school, one of my repeating Transition to Algebra students came to me, asking to get the hat belonging to his friend (whose face I recognized but not his name), which was left in my classroom. They caught me while I had a heavy case of calculators in my hand, so I told them to wait while I put those away in the library. When I returned, they were arguing over a CD player in their hands, which according to district policy they should not have had at school in the first place. When I began speaking to them, now outside my locked classroom, the friend of my student was acting kind of strange and disrespectful. He started out mimicking me, repeating what I said, then he began pretending he couldn’t hear what I was saying. So finally, I told them, “Bye, talk to me on Monday.” I wasn’t about to deal with that crap on a Friday afternoon to help them retrieve something that I never even took from them in the first place. I still had to get my things out of my classroom before I could leave for the day. So as I unlocked the door, this other student tried to push his way inside to get his hat. Maybe I could have backed down, avoided the confrontation, let him take his hat, and written him up for the whole thing afterward, but just because of his rudeness, I felt stubborn and wasn’t about to let him trespass into my room! I stood in the door and held it firmly with my arm blocking the way, as he tried to push his way past. I kept telling him over and over to leave, but he refused and kept trying to push me out of the way. He didn’t give up until I finally pressed the intercom button and told the office staff I had a student in my room who refused to leave. He kind of sulked off after that with a belligerent look on his face. When I saw him in the hall a few minutes later, I asked him to tell me his name, but he just shook his head rudely and muttered something stupid, like, “I don’t remember.” Of course I wrote a discipline referral about it all, and Mr. Bic, the assistant principal, told me he would suspend the student for a week, maybe more. Still, the incident was a little bit upsetting, just because it was the first physical confrontation (besides the odd thrown pen or roll of toilet paper) I have experienced toward my person since I have been at the school.
I was scheduled for duty Friday night for the football game. It was my first time to work the back gate, which turns out to be quite a different experience than the front gate, for several reasons. First of all, you can see the action on the field better. It is also much less busy, and the ticket sellers and ticket takers are positioned much closer together. So it works out to be a bit of a gab session, as you might imagine. (And if you don’t imagine, then you haven’t got a clue.) An ambulance came at one point, then left. Apparently the player turned out to be okay. On the baseball field next door, a crowd of young boys began playing a disorganized version of tackle football with an empty plastic bottle. I was about to call Coach C to let him know, just in case we should chase them off or something, when the other teachers scoffed and told me not to bother. Next thing we know, the sheriff deputy who earlier had muttered something resentful about “babysitting” was over there, shooing them away like pigeons. And one of the teachers mentioned that during fourth block that day, 5 girls and 6 boys were caught in the girls restroom in the science building. The other lady shook her head, laughed, and exclaimed, “That means one of them had two!”
Saturday morning, I got up early to meet two of my best students for the drive up to Oxford. I met “Sonya” first. After some fumbling around trying to make out the mostly-missing addresses in the predawn darkness, I finally managed to wake up the right dog, who barked at me loudly, and her mother came out. She asked if she could follow me to the other girl’s house, just to see us off. I said, sure, no problem. When Sonya came out, she acted embarrassed, but explained it was because of “what happened with the other teacher.” When we got the Gretchen
’s house, once again it was a little hard to make out which house it was. I called her cell phone, and she clearly had not woken up yet. She claimed her alarm never went off. So, after waiting in the car and watching the darkness turn to dawn, listening to the early morning music turn into the weekend news on NPR for about 20 or 25 minutes, Gretchen finally appeared, with her hair done up all nice and pretty.
We stopped at Cracker Barrel in Batesville along the way, because that’s my favorite place to eat breakfast (no matter what time of day it is). I always get the same Country Boy Breakfast there, with steak, scrambled eggs with cheese, biscuits with gravy, grits, and fried apples. The server who seated us made a big deal about Gretchen answering so emphatically, “Non!” when he asked us “smoking or non.” I think he was trying to flirt with her, but she pretty much ignored him. The girls wanted to know such pressing questions as, what kind of music do I like, and would I go for the art teacher (if she weren’t married with three kids already!). After seeing the campus, we had some extra time before the game, so we browsed the Square in downtown Oxford. Gretchen gawked at the $200 jeans in a boutique, and somehow, we got to talking about what they like to read, which are of course the trashy gangsta novels so popular with the kids nowadays, the ones with such mystifying titles as G-Spot
and the like. I was beginning to see my first hint of their real, um, teenager sexuality. I naively thought of them as being a bit above all that, you know, more sheltered and everything. But everyone has their trashy side, I guess, especially at that age. I was a little relieved to hear Gretchen say she didn’t plan to have kids until she’s 27.
Dr. Mullins was able to meet us at Ole Miss and show us the chancellor’s office, brush the cockroach off the James Meredith
monument, take a photo op with us, and rattle off statistics about African-American students at the university. Afterwards, Sonya commented that he seems like a nice man, and I agreed. “He’s a great man,” I added. Despite that, I felt more self-conscious than ever about the whiteness of Ole Miss. Nearly all the fans gathered there, every student in the band, every cheerleader save for one guy, every tailgater, and at least 95% of the student portraits hanging in the Student Hall of Fame were white. I even spotted a flag featuring black and white stripes, with a red cross-out circle over it. I wasn’t sure the precise meaning of the banner, but it seemed ominously anti-integration, and it made me cringe. The girls didn’t say anything, but I wondered at times if they were noticing the same things.
The game was a bit of a dud, and the girls, not being football fans particularly, were eager to leave by halftime. Afterwards, several of us Teacher Corps brought our people together at a pizza place on the Square. My girls, who were a little disappointed to see there were no boys of their own age and maturity, “dumped” me to sit at the other table. I had fun with it. We talked about the goofy Teacher Corps alum who used to teach at my school, told the students he kept his son in the dumpster, went to Japan for a year, then came back and teaches at the same school with a couple of my classmates now. I told my story of the time a couple weeks ago, when I arrived at school in the morning to find my door wide open, a window open, and my computer still on. A mysterious thick fluid lay in spots on the floor beside the computer, and confirming my suspicions, I found some pictures (through a proxy site) of a black woman sucking on the penis of a black man on my Internet browser history! Afterwards, the girls commented that “the future Mrs. A,” as Sonya called her, was "really nice," but her boys "had no manners" at all. They said it looked like one of them spilled his tea on her on purpose, and they thought she was gonna snap on him, but she just said, “What happened?” As we finally made our way back toward the car, the girls told me how much fun they had and said we should do it again every Saturday. I laughed and told them I enjoyed it, too, which is true.
Gretchen must have had a late night. Not only, she slept through her alarm that morning, but also through most of the game, and most of the way home, too. That left me lots of time to talk with Sonya on the long drive home. I started out by asking her what she likes to do, besides homework, that is. She’s the only student I ever saw who actually cheers when homework is assigned or a quiz is announced! Well, she started telling me about her boyfriend, and for whatever reason she really opened up to me. It came out that her boyfriend “goes both ways,” as she put at first. He’s bisexual. His mom kicked him out of the house when she found out, he dropped out of high school, and now he lives with some guy he’s involved with. Hearing about that situation, I told her to make sure she protects herself with him, “You know what I mean, right?” She kind of squirmed a little bit and admitted that although she tried to use a condom, he has sometimes “put a hole in it” so that it breaks. I said, “What?!?!” I tried to be understanding of how she feels, but I couldn’t help myself from telling her, over and over, that she really, really needs to get away from that guy. He clearly does not have her interests at heart, if that kind of stuff is going on.
Now, Sonya is the most quiet, shy, unassuming, responsible student you will ever see in a high school. I told her the good I see in her, what a blessing she is to our school, and what a bright future she has ahead of her. But that $#%! I just told you, that’s not even the half of it! We got to talking some more, and it turns out that she was the very student who Mr. _______ got fired for earlier this year. It happened at a football game. He said something about, if she were his age, blah blah blah, and then they got to flirting, and then he invited her back to the ISS room, and they made out back there, and according to her, they did just about everything but actual sexual intercourse while a male student stood watch outside. Eventually, someone convinced her to report the incident, and now she worries that Mr. _______ must hate her now, and what’s gonna happen if she sees him at Wal-Mart. She said it’s not really his fault, and I told her, no, it is. It is his fault! As a teacher, he knew it was wrong. He knew better. He way, way crossed beyond a line he should have never gotten close to. Every teacher knows it is not only unethical but illegal. I asked her if it ever happened with anyone else. She said it happened with a couple other girls last year, but they never reported it.
“I’m so weak,” she said. “I wish I had you over my shoulder when I make those decisions,” she said. And I went home that night feeling like somebody kicked me in the gut. “So much goes on around here, I don’t even know!” I told Gretchen after dropping Sharon off. “Tell me about it,” she said. This is one of my best students ever, and I’m worried she might get HIV/AIDS.