Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, May 04, 2004
I just saw something that reminded me very clearly why middle school is such a nightmare.

"Hey, John..." I hear a boy say to another boy as I am passing a group of boys in the hallway right after last bell. "Do you like tater-tots?"

Now, this question would seem harmless enough...but I know-- and from the terror that John is exhibiting, it would seem he knows-- that the question is not literal. The questioner is with about four other boys and John is backing slowly up against the lockers. I pause because, as a teacher, it is now my job to stop "bullying". This is more difficult than it seems. In movies, "bullying" is pretty simple. It is a big thug in a leather jacket slamming a skinny youngster up against the wall shouting, "Give me your lunch money, Punk!"

But in poor John's case, I am afraid that bullying may possibly be being asked if he likes tater-tots by five boys who look a bit younger than him. The only way you can kind of tell that the question is not about tater-tots is the loaded silence of the questioner after the question and the fact that all five of the boys watching have giant, evil grins spread across their faces.

John froze and searched his questioners face for a clue. I could tell that he didn't know what "liking tater-tots" meant. Nor did I. I could see him racking his brain. Did it mean oral sex with other boys? Did it mean eating poop? He looked panicked, but was silent, trying to disappear.

The questioner looked behind him and saw me waiting there. I could see him deciding whether or not to give up the question, but in the end he must have figured that he couldn't really get in trouble for asking someone if they liked eating fried potatoes. "Well, do you? It is a simple question."

John looked at me imploringly. He needed saving.

"You boys move along. Bell rang." I finally said, arms crossed against my chest and frowning slightly to let them know I knew they were being bad.

"He does like tater-tots. We know that anyway." The questioner smiled triumphantly as the other boys howled with laughter. They were right. Because they were doing what I asked and leaving, I couldn't punish them for asking John that question. All of us in that hallway knew that there was teasing going on, but it would be impossible to punish.

John didn't meet my eye as he got the rest of his stuff from his locker. His cheeks were on fire.

"Have a good day." I told him quietly as he walked away. I wanted to give him a hug and tell him that the world is a lot less cruel after 13.

"Thank you, Ma'am." He mumbled and pushed his way through the hallway. ¶ 11:59 AM

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