NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 122

The rules that I ’ m accustomed to — the protective barrier between teacher and student — don ’ t exist here . Children are free to say whatever they please . On the first day , I ask a seventh grader , Sheenequah ( her name , along with those of the other children , have been changed ), to take a seat . She tells me to “ shut the fuck up .” A month later , Kira , another seventh grader , threatens to “ smack the shit out of me .” They spend all day hurling insults in the heat and a kind of angry energy emerges between us . They treat us like wardens , as something to defy , mislead , taunt , ridicule , elude . As my emotional insecurity rises , I start to see them as something to be controlled . I know teachers who have reduced their students to tears . “ You won ’ t make it to eighth grade ” and all those other crushing phrases . Our Dean wears a bow tie every day . His bald-head gleams in the overhead lighting . His name is Musa Abdullah . Every day he wears a different pair of throwback sneakers that match the bow tie . Under his arm is usually a confiscated basketball . He twists ears , leading entire bodies by the creased cartilage . He threatens to punch children in the stomach . One child claims that Abdullah wrapped his hand around his throat and choked him . He is the bogeyman . I threaten my children with him . “ Do I have to call Abdullah ?” I ask when they won ’ t sit down . They sit .
Ishmael , a gangly seventh grader , is the most vocal about the Dean . To everyone else he is defiant , irrational , but I know if I speak calmly , slowly , he will cock his head to the side , grow still and listen . He is usually running , eluding capture , all knobby knees and elbows . When other teachers look at me , frustrated that he has just slipped their grasp , is taunting them in retreat , I try to step in , but he enjoys humiliating me . Does it feel good , his maniacal grin seems to ask , to play savior ? He is not my child . But there he is again , peering up at me through thick eyelashes , his furtiveness turning him for the briefest moment into a little boy , and I find myself , reaching again and again for that look . He lies to cover up his mistakes . Bolting down the hallways , proclaiming innocence , even as the security camera catches him lifting the Art teacher ’ s iPhone from her purse . I am his advisor . He is my advisee .
I have nine other seventh grade boys under my care . We meet once a week in my classroom . They are a motley crew . Because I am older and a mother , they have given me some of the most challenged and challenging young boys in the school . There ’ s Ishmael , skittish and wild , and Raheem , who has been prescribed three different types of medication for his behavior but refuses to take any of them .
He doesn ’ t know his own strength , as though his lumbering , pubescent body is new to him , and he thumps around the room , incapable of staying seated . He sweats and talks , sweats and talks . There is Darryen , who is small and wiry . He ’ s dyed a blonde streak in his air . When I ask him why he has done this , he shrugs his shoulders . During our first advisory , he pulled a box cutter on Raheem and got a four-day-in-school suspension . Raheem had a tendency of cornering Darryen . He thought he was just playing . But Darryen was substantially smaller than Raheem and trapped by this lumbering , sweating mass who was un-medicated and apparently out of control , Darryen knew real terror . He thought he could even the score with the box cutter . As a group we develop a safe word to keep Raheem calm . We use it to let him know he is un-medicated , out of control and scaring us . “ Cinnamon .” I use it only once during the school year , and when I do , he looks at me with such unbridled sadness that I want to take him in my arms and hold him . There ’ s Tahj , who in October has yet to offer up anything but a sneer . When I finally get them half-seated and explain again in a hoarse , strained voice that as their advisor I am their advocate in the school , I ask why there is so much animosity between the students and the teachers .
“ Well ,” Ishmael says , “ Abdullah hits us .”