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.”