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.