A year of subbing in twenty-plus area high schools has confirmed a number of things about local teenagers. One is that the inner city kids here, for all of their street smarts, can be a rather gullible bunch at times – but they have also seen enough of society’s downside to buy into some pretty strange things without much question.
I have also learned that for all of their bluster and work at distracting me as a teacher from anything meaningful, the rare occasions when I can get their complete attention…I do have their complete attention – or at least their silence. This noiseless state is, indeed, is a very rare occurrence here at any grade level, and I gauge this rapt consideration by silently counting in my head on the rare moments when I get complete silence; “A thousand one, thousand two…” and so on. I consider it a major accomplishment when I get to “thousand four.”
This past week I wrapped up my second and final summer school session of the season; two-weeks of remedial biology for a bunch of ‘rising 11th graders.’ An at times unruly bunch, we had a history, as I was a sub at their school numerous times this past year, so for the past two weeks, we have had our periodic (O.K., daily and continual) power struggles. On Thursday, I was roaming around the classroom as the students completed a portion of the study guide for their final. As usual, there was a buzz of numerous, simultaneous conversations. Then, one of the young men noticed the new tennis shoes I was wearing, purchased the day before at WalMart. They are name-brand shoes, too – not the generic cheapies that the gotta-have-the-latest-in-style students regularly chide me for.
“Hey, Mr. Lucker! Where’d you get them new shoes?” I ignored the kid and kept walking up and down aisles, gazing over shoulders at work being done. “Mr. Lucker! Where’d you get them new sneakers?” I continued walking, throwing my response out casually without breaking stride.
“I took ‘em off the feet of some guy I saw sleeping on a bench last night.”
A thousand one…a thousand two…a thousand three….
“No way he got those off a guy on a bench last night! They too clean! They ain’t even marked up!” mumbled one kid earnestly (but not entirely certain) to another. “Yeah…” the kid next to him agreed, sneaking a glance my way, “ain’t no way a guy on a bench keeps his shoes that clean for long!”
I just shook my head, adding an increduous, “Dude, I got ‘em at WalMart.” The class looked relived, some were shaking their heads in disbelief. Quickly, the ambient buzz returned to the room.
Shaking my head, I kept on walking.