There was a big standardized test today, so the kids who weren’t taking it were assigned to the cafeteria for four hours.
I was lucky though. I only had to be down there for the last two hours, just when Iron Man had ended and the crowd of 350 started to get restless.
But there was nothing to fear, because a special guest speaker had been booked.
The principal introduced an attractive young woman — who was there with her daughter and a small entourage — as one of our “many notable graduates”. Unfortunately, what she is notable for is that she is the widow of man who was killed by the police during a botched traffic stop in what became a very high profile national case.
I’m not really sure why this qualified her to be a motivational speaker, but she encouraged the students to avoid peer-pressure, stay in school, avoid gangs, and cooperate with the police.
Student conversations continued unabated as she spoke while loud shushes by teachers echoed up and down the cafeteria. All this contributed to a general murmur that, even with a microphone, almost completely drowned out the sound of the speaker’s voice.
Positioning myself at one particularly unruly end, with the mistaken assumption that my proximate presence as a dean would be enough to smother some of the talking, I lost my patience with two kids who were loudly discussing how much one was going to buy the other’s soda for.
Bills were coming out, cans were being snatched back and forth, and distinctly thoughtless tones of voice employed. One kid had his back to the speaker, and neither were even trying to make it appear like they were listening.
“You two need to be quiet. Now! And you. You need to turn around. She is speaking for you!” I said with exasperation.
“You can’t force me to turn around,” replied one.
“Ain’t nobody wanna hear her anyway,” said the other.
“Mista, who is that anyway?”
Mind you, this is after the poor lady had been introduced by the principal, she had introduced herself, and had been speaking for a good 15 minutes.
At times like this my speech becomes awkward and stilted because all my mental energies are being used to halt the deluge of expletives and body-blows surging forth from within. It makes me sound like I just started learning English.
“No! You… no!”
As the speaker continued, I began to notice that I was the only staff member even doing anything to try to keep kids quiet. Having not been told what they were supposed to do down there, most of the staff just congregated as close to the speaker and to each other, and as far away from the kids, as they could. It was very frustrating.
“Fraternity of disorganization”, said Dave later on when I described the scene to him.
Even though I was pretty much just standing there, there’s something really energy sapping about being on full alert just waiting for the lid on a boiling pot to fly off. It’s like how driving cross country can knock you out even though all you’ve done physcially is move your driving finger a couple inches to the left and right a couple hundred times.
“Whyyyy am I heeeere?” I pleaded to another dean who was stationed in the cafeteria also.
“What do you mean?” She seemed genuinely confused and concerned.
“I’m too – Never mind.”
I stopped myself because I was about to say that I was too intelligent to be stuck in this job, but that would have made me look and feel even more pathetic than I already did.
Then, the pizza came.
It goes without saying that there was no plan nor even any attempt made to direct how 250 starving teenagers and 100 full-fledged hooligans were going to get their single allotted pizza slice. It was a little scary actually. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of screams of “Stop pushing the table!!!”
But hey, at least someone arranged for a “Pizza Dance” to be performed by a man in an Italian pizza-chef costume.
“Shake it! Spin it! Put it in the oven! Then turn around and clap! Who wants to do it with me?”
“As a real Italian, I’m going to have to leave the room for this,” growled one teacher.
Later on, after most of the students had left for the day, I mosied into Dave’s office to tell him about my dreams the night before.
I don’t often talk about my dreams, or even remember them for that matter. But this one had been accompanied by powerful emotions, and images from it had come flashing back into my mind that day out of the blue.
“I was in the wilderness with some friends and we were attacked by mountain lions. We started a fire to scare them off, but then the whole forest started to burn. Then I saw another group of people nearby who were getting along great with the mountain lions. They had even incorporated them into some kind of game like Red Rover or something!”
Dave didn’t even bother to look up from his paperwork as he instantly interpreted the dream, “You’re a failure as a teacher. You’re a fraud. You’re like me.”
I wasn’t expecting an analysis but I liked where he was going. “The mountain lions attacking me are the kids,” I said enthusiastically. “And I’m burning my life down.”
“Everything around you is on fire,” Dave added, “while people dance around you, making pizzas”.