I pause the Glue Song and ring the tiny bell on the cart.

“People, look over here. This pink paper is LAMIAH, that was yesterday’s homework that I forgot to pass out. Please raise your hand if you need it and Frank will pass it out. This white paper is MARSHALL. Glue MARSHALL and the Warm-up into your Math notebook, please.”

(This is the Glue Song. It’s a sound cue, telling the students that the directions on the board involve glue.)

I hand a pink stack to Frank and put the Glue Song back on. As soon as the music hits their pubescent ears, I am beset by questions.

“Mr. Vaudrey, you forgot to stamp my planner.”
“Mr. Vaudrey, do I glue them on the same page?”
“Mr. Vaudrey, can I get a drink of water? But I’m thirsty!
“Mr. Vaudrey, can I do number one?”
“Mr. Vaudrey, my dog attacked a rabbit this morning.”
“Mr. Vaudrey, I didn’t get LAMIAH.”
“Mr. Vaudrey, did you hear that? James said he’s gonna hurt me!”

“You need Mark in the office? Thank God.”

I only have 21 students in this class, but each one has specific needs on my time, and any one of them ignored will cause a cavalcade that will corrode the rest of the period.

“Then take your planner out right away so I can see it. I don’t care how you glue them, it’s up to you. You just had lunch. Talk to Maria and Desmond to see which ones they are doing. That’s great; do the warm-up. Frank is passing it out, he’ll be here in a sec. You did the right thing by not responding to him. James, let me speak to you outside.”

It’s possible that the homeless guy in Glendora who talks to himself–seemingly sporadically–is just replaying conversations from when he used to teach middle school.

Typically, when non-teachers actually see my classroom, they exclaim, “Wow. I could never do that.” It makes me feel good; knowing that my six years of skills are beginning to take shape into a career.

But my students are just a different bunch. At least nobody masturbated at their desk today. (Some students have done that in last year’s classes).

The first part of the period is the hopeful part; the class can go either way. Either they will be motivated and hard-working…

… or he will give up, seek distractions, lament “I don’t get it!” with her head on the desk, tuck his head in his shirt and rock back and forth, tell the new girl she’s fat, tell him he can go to hell, tell her to go eat a cheeseburger, he’ll chew gum, claim it isn’t gum, and ask to go to the nurse.

All of which happened in the first 15 minutes of our lesson on Slope.

I have to remind myself (in the moment, especially) that they weren’t born this way. These students are the product of low skills, bad teachers, lazy parents, low-income community, a disinterested school culture, and Hot Cheetos con Limon. Any one of those by itself would be a challenge, and in 4th period, I have a huge cocktail.

Which, coincidentally, is what I’m craving after they leave.

Celebrate the successes and push through the challenges.

Come on, Vaudrey. These kids need learnin’ and you’re just the guy to do it.