Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Ritalin Years, Part Three

The fifth grade gym teacher, Mr. Phillips, was a merciless tyrant. What he lacked in height and fitness he made up for in volume. There was no occasion, in this portly little man's mind, to speak to children in a normal tone of voice. To him, we were junior delinquents, scheming behind his back to make a fool of him. Discipline, not fitness, would be our only salvation. A shy black boy once asked to go to the restroom a few minutes into class. "You shoulda taken care of that before class, boy! You can hold it now." The kid cried as he pissed himself, and I hated Mr. Phillips forever.

A friend of mine had just returned with her family from Iran, where they had lived for a year while her father was stationed there. She was a bit of a celebrity upon her rejoining class; her family had narrowly escaped during the hostage crisis, and everyone wanted to talk to her. This year I only had gym class with her, and I was determined to get the skinny on life in Iran before I lost my chance. As we sat on the gym floor awaiting the start of some rediculous game involving a giant rubber ball, I coaxed her into a surreptitious exchange, keeping a close eye on Phillips. Having established that she had gotten out of the country quickly and with little fuss, I moved on to the more important details of life in Iran.

"So, do they listen to cool music over there?"
"Not really, its kinda weird," she said.
"What about movies? You've seen Saturday Night Fever, right?"
"Oh, heck yeah. The Bee Gees rule!"
"Omigod, they're all total foxes! Which do you like better, Barry or Andy?"
"Andy's not in the group, dorkus. And anyway, Barry is way more hunky."

A single giggle, and Mr. Phillips was on top of us. "Hel-LO, Ladies! I hope there's something really important going on back there, because I HATE being interrupted!"

I took a moment to picture him in his underwear. "No sir," we said in unison.

"Then what say we Shee-yut UP?"

Shee-yut up. Even I knew, at my age, that was totally rude.

We sat quietly and watched two boys bring in the massive red rubber ball. We had just played this stupid game a couple of days ago: the class lines up in rows with one half facing the other half, and we all try to lob the giant ball past the team facing us. Mr. Phillips saw no reason to mix things up. We were lucky to have a giant ball, and not the back of his hand.

"So, real quick: do you have the soundtrack to the movie?" I whispered.
"Heck yeah."
"Which is your favorite song?"
"I dunno. Stayin' Alive, I guess." She was getting nervous about getting busted. I had to keep her attention.
"'Open Sesame' by Kool and the Gang totally rules the world."
"Don't know that one," she said, her eyes on the tyrant, who was at the front of the gym barking instructions.
"Oh, wow, you've got to hear the whole thing. There's all these other cool songs on it."
She shushed me suddenly and pointed to Mr. Phillips, who was eyeing us. I estimated him to be out of earshot.
"Up Phillip's ass, forget him! You totally need your own copy of this album."
By the look on her face, I had misjudged. Mr. Phillips was barrelling toward me, teeth bared. He grabbed me by the arm and shoved me ahead of him, toward the gym door.
"You go on and tell Mr. Morgan what you just said about me, word for word, young lady, and don't you come back in my class today!"

"Fine!" I shouted as he slammed the gym door. Mr. Morgan was no problem. I was his favorite. Whenever I ended up in his office for something, he'd pat his leg and I'd jump up in his lap. He'd tell me how pretty I was, and how smart I was, and that I should really try harder to be a good girl. I never got in trouble. It was our little secret. I grinned and headed for the principal's office.

I was suprised to find Mr. Morgan a little aloof with me when I arrived. I told him what happened, going for the sympathy slant ("He's always yelling at us and I couldn't take it anymore"). He said something about a meeting with Mr. Phillips and my homeroom teacher and dismissed me to lunch.

Determined to put the incedent out of my head, I began to plan my lesson for Fred and the new girl, Lacey. Today was alphabet day. I nibbled at an ice-cold industrioburger and doodled pictures of Snoopy and Woodstock, singing the ABC's. Snoopy was easy to draw; Woodstock was the real challenge. Fred could draw him rather impressively, for a first-grader.

I was putting my lunch tray away when Mr. Morgan tapped me on the shoulder. "Come on over here, Tif. We're going to have a talk."

He led me over to where my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Blakely, sat precariously in a child-sized plastic seat, her large rump spilling over the sides. Her normally sweet face now looked disturbingly grim. Behind her, chawing on an imaginary piece of gum, stood Mr. Phillips with his arms crossed, looking satisfied.

Mrs. Blakely pulled out a chair for me. "Tifanie, we know you're a smart girl, and we've tried a lot of things to make you understand that your behavior is inappropriate. Nothing seems to work. Mr. Morgan talked to your mother today, and let her know that our next step is to take away your recess time."

I looked around, stunned. Mr. Morgan's eyes did not beam with adoration. Mr. Phillips pursed his lips into what looked like an evil smile. They were serious.

"Well, so, you mean, if I act up again?" I tried, feebly.
"No, we mean right now. You're going to go up to homeroom and sit quietly until recess is over."
My heart raced. But surely, as a tutor of first-graders, I still had some negotiating power. "Actually, I don't really do recess anymore anyway. I teach those kids in Mrs. Robertson's class."
The three adults looked at each other, and for a moment, it looked like this would make the difference. After all, I had already willingly given up recess time to help them do their job.

After an excruciating moment of silence, Mr. Phillips broke out with this: "As far as I'm concerned, young lady, if you can't behave and watch your smart little mouth, you got no business teaching those kids."

Mr. Morgan nodded. "Mr. Phillips is right, Tif. If you lose your recess time, you lose your teaching privleges."
"Go on now," Mrs. Blakely said. "We'll let Mrs. Robertson know."

I begged through tears to be allowed to teach a final session and say goodbye to Fred and Lacey, but it was nothing doing. I was screwed. My gig was over.

The bottom dropped out of my little world. Dazed and shaking, I dragged past Mrs. Robertson's room to my own homeroom, and laid my head down. Stupid old fucker Phillips. He really enjoyed that, didn't he? I spent the rest of the hour fantasizing about marching up to the front of gym class and hurling anathema at him, to shouts of encouragement from my peers.

Later in the week, I snuck around the edge of Mrs. Robertson's door and pressed a gift into little Fred's hand. It was a little diecast racecar with Snoopy at the wheel, taken from my own collection. "Take care, little guy," I said. And as I walked quickly down the hall, I heard him shout "Thank you! Thank you!"


Blogger Curtis said...

Maybe Mr. Phillips needed some Ritalin himself?

Actually, Ritalin is a big problem for adults too.

10:10 AM  

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