Friday, September 21, 2007

Student Learns Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

Every now and then, a teacher lucks out with a class that is imbued with "the looove." They just looove everything, and their joy shows and is contagious among them, spreading into their behavior and participation in class. They don't say it out loud, but their actions have, for me, an unspoken commentary of happiness, something like "We looove being in class, and what's this? Whatever it is, we looove it too...oh, okay, maybe we didn't looove it as much as we thought, but we are going to looove this new thing you're giving us, promise!" These classes aren't without their problems, but their problems tend to be unique to the usual experience.

This particular class has recently been infiltrated by a new student from another school who, for some reason, came in fighting battles (with me) that don't exist and has not, so far, been successful at reading the cues from her classmates. That is, she doesn't realize we've already agreed that we all have "the looove," or she came from a more hostile educational environment, perhaps. She decided she wanted to make her mark by being rude and confrontational. So far, she's been tolerated, but much of her challenging behavior has been ignored by all of us. I get the sense the students are trying to be gentle with her.

Today she decided she really wanted to push some buttons, and she thought it was going to happen in my class. She came into class very late, and made a dramatic entrance by walking in front of me while I was talking, dropping her purse to the floor by her desk loudly, and putting an open can of coke on the desk. She's very pretty and likes to preen, so she did some of that too.

She definitely got everyone's attention. I told her immediately she needed to get rid of the open coke (bottled drinks only in the classroom), then ignored her when she tried to protest. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her make a slow, dramatic trek to the trash can and proceed to stand there drinking the rest of the soda before throwing the can away (a common tactic). In front of me, I saw the entire class riveted on her antics, but not in the way you might think. (And not in the way I'd expected either.)

Classroom dynamics are a funny thing. You see, I already have an Alpha female personality in this class - and she started out the year being as nasty as she could be. When she realized I wasn't having any of it, we made our peace with one another and moved on.

Since she was in front of me, I watched her facial expressions go through a variety of contortions, finally settling in a raised-eyebrow expression of disapproval - something like a high-society maven disapproving of a woman who's worn a bikini to a formal fund-raiser for underprivileged children. I could have drawn a cartoon bubble over her head that said, "This will not do."

The other students' gazes ping-ponged between her and the new girl, and they began to roll their eyes, grin, and giggle. The new girl continued her dramatics, and finally returned to her seat.

when I'd finished my instructions I had them break into self-selected groups for an exam review activity. The new girl messed around in her purse, applied some lip gloss, and generally stalled until all the groups had been chosen.

Then she said loudly (I kid you not), "Who wants me in their group?"

You could have heard a pin drop.

For a very long time, no one said anything. Finally, one student said, "Well, it looks like we all already have everyone we need."

She didn't know what to say to that. Luckily, before I had to step in, a group of all boys said they'd take her. But as she joined them I heard, "But you have to sit there and participate. We don't want to talk about make-up and shit."

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