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Alfonse Goes Ghetto

Describing Jim’s first day in my class reminded me of a new student who came to my room last year. Class had barely begun and there was a knock on my door. I opened it. There stood a young man all spit shined and polished. He was wearing dress shoes, a three piece navy blue suit, a navy blue tie with a conservative red stripe, and a white dress shirt. His hair was cut short, combed and smooth — he looked like a standard issue business man, size small.

He held out his hand, clasped mine in a firm shake and said, “How do you do Ms. A? My name is Alfonse M. and I come to you from Cambridge.”

All I could think, looking down at this perfect young gentleman was, “Oh my, God. The kids will kill him before the day is out.” I invited him into the room and introduced him to the class.

The kids in our school wear uniforms. Black, navy or khaki pants, and white, khaki or navy shirts. They do not wear suits. Not only that, our school is in a high-risk (gang infested) neighborhood and is 100% free lunch. My rag tag crew stared at Mr. Spit-n-Polish. He stared back. I suspected recess was going to be very lively.

As soon as he was in his seat, Alfonse immediately shed his jacket, vest and tie, stuffing them into his backpack. He mussed his hair. The slicked down look was gone, and he’d rolled up his shirt sleeves. It really didn’t help him blend in. He was too clean, too pressed, too straight and too new.

I said a silent prayer and began class. The class I had last year was pretty rough around the edges, so I wasn’t surprised when the murmurings started. I looked up and saw two of my roughest and toughest head to head muttering in Spanish. The biggest of the pair hooked his thumb toward Alfonse.

I didn’t know what they were saying, but I know enough Spanish to understand I was hearing a threat. I started to open my mouth and tell my wannbe thugs to can it. I never got the chance. Alfonse whipped around in his sit and said, “You can f-fen try.” Then he added something crude in Spanish.

My class gasped. Everybody whipped back around to look at me. Was I going to allow that?

Yep. I was. I redirected everyone’s attention to their math assignment. When they were working quietly I whispered to Alfonse that I understood the need for his response, but in the future, that launguage wasn’t allowed in my classroom. Then I whispered to the wannabe thugs, “I think Alfonse can take you, but remember, even if he can’t, I can.”

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. You do live with the Wild Bunch, I sometimes worry about you with some of the rowdy ones you have in your class. But then you have your other students who adore you and will take care of you.

    A Blessed Sunday is wished for you.

  2. Brig — a little rougher than you’re used to?

    Bill — I have only been in one seriously scary situation. Some day I will tell that tale, but probably not while I still work for this school district.

    Polona — Alfonse was the soul of courtesy and politness. He not only didn’t cause me any trouble, he brought a higher academic standard to the class — challenging the other students to keep up (and helping them when they couldn’t). Everybody liked him.

  3. Quilly, great story! Especially with the ending in the above comment.

    Geez school has changed a lot since my time. But glad to hear old fashioned values can still prevail. 🙂

  4. Morgan — kids are still kids. They get away with whatever they’re allowed to. Unfortunately, they are often allowed to get away with far too much..

  5. Minka — I’ve had 5th grade students anywhere between the ages of 9 and 13. Most kids start the year at age 10, and end at age 11.

    That peeing contest had to be allowed. Alfonse needed to get his bluff in before they hit the playground.

  6. Oh goodness! You do get your work cut out for you each year, don’t you!? Sounds like Alfonse is gonna BE somebody in this world!

  7. Eh, kinda/kinda not. I worked for a teen group home for a little bit. We lived in with the kids and we went through this stuff every day. But my response was required to be different. Part of the program. I like yours better. But it’s still very different than my fifth grade was, and I’m always shocked at how street saavy kids have to be nowadays.

    I only spent a few months there, and it was the hardest job I’ve ever done, including mowing 14 hours a day in 117 weather. I respect what you do because it kicked my butt.

  8. Joe — thanks — I’ve never forgotten how I felt as a kid, and I use that knowledge to help me make kid friendly decisions.

    Dr. John — that fancy covering had a scrappy kid inside.

    Mike — teacher, nurse, mom, doctor, friend, disciplinarian — who is sometimes blind and deaf.

  9. It’s wonderful you were blessed with that sense of humor. Otherwise, I’m fairly certain you’d have to pull all your hair out! 🙂

  10. You never did tell us which Cambridge. All he needed in that classroom was a poncy accent from the East or from (gasp) England. It does sound like he has parents with standards. Prayers for all of them, and for you.

  11. Jackie — I was frequently shocked my first year teaching. Now it is just life as usual.

    OC — Massachusetts — but his accent was barely discernable, then lost all together, because he was originally from Minnesota. And prayers are always welcome. I say one every morning before class starts.

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