The Brentballs are not an esoteric, abstraction. They’re right here, right now and thoroughly in your court. You have a second or two, three at the most, to come up with a solution. Quick you check your food bar supply. The minute the bus comes to a stop, you leap up nearly knocking the kid to your left off her seat. With a wet wipe, you pick up the nearest spitball. With your other hand, you tap Brent on the shoulder.
“Come to my office, please,” you say in the sweetest tone you can muster. “Come to my office” is the line you’ve used with kids for months to discuss anything from “Do you need lunch money today?” to “I heard you smacked Samantha in the lunch line so now we need to fix the damage” The “office” is anywhere you move away from the other kids—outside the classroom door, to the side of the recess field, to a corner of the cafeteria… You get the idea. The kids know by now you will not embarrass them in front of the class and that often these little trips to the office are for an extra treat or “I caught you being good” slip they can take to parents to exchange for privileges like extra computer time at home.
You wave your hand to signal to everyone on the bus that you need a conference before they storm the door, careful to make meaningful eye-contact with the team leader. She gets it. “Slight delay,” you shout to everyone else on the bus.
Brent grins his loopy grin, hand half out for the treat. You lead him to the front of the bus. Zelda can hear every sigh, every breath, every word.
You address the bus riders, “Brent has a very quick problem up here. We need a private moment.”
Kids understand what “private moment” means, usually a bathroom urgency they want no part of. They stall at their seats, grumbling and peering over each other’s shoulders. Everyone else stands down. The chaperones crane to hear.
“Brent, we have a serious problem.”
Brent is all sympathy and nonchalance.
You hold out the wet wipe.
“This is the finest specimen of a spitball in the United States. If I had a medal, I would award it to you right his minute.”
Zelda huffs in disgust.
Brent’s smile grows more loopy.
“What we all need, is to preserve these spitballs for posterity.”
You hold out the plastic bag and a fresh wet wipe.
“Before we leave the bus, every Brentball needs to be in this bag.”
You let it sink in. Slowly, slowly recognition dawns. Brent is very smart. His behavior is what lands him in special education not his learning ability. That and his little drug problem that nobody talks about because his parents donate heavily to school projects and go to the same church as the guidance counselor and principal.
“We need to keep them safe till the championship spitball contest next Friday.”
You’ve made this up on the spot.
Brent perks up, takes the wet wipe and deposits it into the plastic bag.
Waving, you address the others, “There’s a food bar for each of the first ten volunteers to help Brent preserve his spitballs for the contest next Friday. You know the one we planned for math. They nod. It always works. Immediately fifteen hands shoot up. You select the ten nearest and pass out wet wipes.
You hold out the bag for everyone to see. Every one in this bag and we can leave the bus.
It’s amazing how fast kids can work when the sounds of the fairgrounds are beckoning through the windows.
The kids unload from the bus and form into their groups with their teacher or chaperone. The team leader looks at you like you’ve definitely overstepped your authority. You peek back inside the bus. Zelda scans the floor, looks at you and grunts. It’s the closest gesture to a smile you’ll ever get.
As soon as you can get Brent aside, you say as casually as you can manage, “When we’re back on the bus, I’ll remind you of our agreement that there will be no more spitballs on the way home. That’s the entry fee for the championship contest on Friday.”
He doesn’t bat an eye, doesn’t mention you never talked about any agreement, just grins that loopy grin.
Would this work for your kid?
What might you do differently?
How about another problem and how you solved it or just write about a problem in the comments section you need help with.
You’re a middle school special education teacher. You know the score. A local grant is awarded in March that you have to use by the end of May for “cultural enrichment.” You find this out April 13th. In these days of abysmal funding, you’re lucky to get it, though it barely covers the bus driver’s overtime for the day so your choices are limited. You scramble to use it, or rather your team leader scrambles to use it before the money is forfeit. She or he decides the state fair, 100 miles south, would be a highly effective and engaging practical application of math skills—yes, teachers talk this way. “Yes,” he or she says, “choosing three no-thrill rides instead of the similarly priced sky-dive-near-death experience, comparing gas mileage costs per person by bus with private vehicle and comparing school lunch costs with rip-off food stands at the fair will build all kinds of math skills.”
Before they load onto the bus, you give your newly hormoned adolescents, with the impulse control of four-year olds, worksheets you know from the start will be lost before they exit the bus and race for the ticket booth. Sound like every 12-hour field trip half-way across the state you’ve taken with a group of 60 kids, two other teachers and three chaperones?
As if that weren’t enough, the bus driver, Alva, not her real name for obvious reasons, hates you because your kids are rowdy and needy and messy. She’s concluded long ago you’re a wimp because, if you were a real teacher, you’d whip the little goonies into shape. Beside you make more money than she does.
This is where Brent enters. Brent is renown for his well-formed aerodynamically superior spitballs. It’s one of his many behavior tics. Brent is 14, going on 35, tall, slim and definitely girl bait. He probably dabbles in drugs you’ve never heard of, and about which you can’t say anything because school policy states that you describe behaviors not their causes. When Brent’s high, he looses all sense of consequence and everything is hilarious. At a party, he might be cool, but on the bus, he and his spitballs are dangerous annoying, humiliating—to you, not him—and unsanitary. You’re sure he’s high on the day of the field trip.
You’re prepared with plastic bags for trash and puke, food bars for the hungry, extra water for the thirsty, wet wipes and sanitizing gel for the sloppy and safety pins for, well, just in case. You’re also equipped with that ubiquitous clipboard for behavior tracking and your cell phone for emergencies. You’ve got it covered.
Before the bus is out of the gate, the first spitball flies. You wait. Now there are more. You check the spitballs. They have the Brent “signature,” large, well-formed and dripping spit, the Brentballs. You move behind Brent whom you’ve placed in the middle of the bus. You’ve done this so, if you have to sit by him, you can observe your kids, who are distributed throughout the bus with the other teachers’ kids to the front and rear of the bus, by the special biology that endows teachers with eyeballs in the back of their heads. You hope the chaperones placed strategically throughout the bus stay awake. You hope the other two teachers, including the team leader, are watching kids with you.
Then it starts.
Samantha wails she’s is so hungry she’ll throw up if you don’t give her a yogurt bar right now. Taking your eyes off Brent for just this one minute, you dig in your bag. Next, Jeremiah needs his chocolate bar fix for bringing back his permission form. Another stolen moment from Brent observation. Then, Avery claims his Baby Ruth for bringing his mother to chaperone. When you look back at Brent, his smile is angelic. You shift your attention, only just slightly, to the others—Takala, Desirea, Rosa.
Two bathroom stops, one puke stop and a, well, just because Alva is the boss stop, the bus finally clunks over the ruts and into the fairground parking lot. The bus floor is sogged with Brentballs. Alva is seething. You know they’re Brent’s. The kids and the other teachers know it too. Only Brent seems oblivious. You’re dismayed. You were hawk-eyeing Brent the whole time. Well almost all the time. Again, you wonder how he does it.
What do you do now?
Come back next Monday to Is This Your Kid right here on my website blog to find out how I handled it. Weigh in on what you think of my solution to the spitball dilemma. Love it? Hate it? Have a better solution? Remember, every voice counts.