Monday, May 19, 2008

Flipping the [Expletive]ing Bird

One of my students flipped me off earlier this week. That same day, another student dropped an f-bomb on me right in the middle of a conversation the two of us were having. Neither student got into any trouble. Try and figure out that riddle.

The answer? Both former students performed their vulgar deeds on the senior trip at Six Flags Great American on Thursday of last week, and neither action was done maliciously.

The girl who flipped me off happened to be a member of the group of students I was currently riding roller coasters with, and before every ride I’d sit right behind her and tell her I heard some kid died on this ride. After about three or four repetitions of that, she got fed up and flew me the bird.

“Did you just flip me off?” I said incredulously.

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry—I didn’t even think about it,” she replied, giggling.

It was funny. I laughed it off.

Then later, the other student asked me what the Iron Wolf was, and I explained to him that it’s a coaster you experience while standing up.

“Are you [expletive]ing kidding me?” he asked.

Stunned, I retorted, “Did you just say what I think you said?”

His excuse was a pathetic one: “I didn’t even realize I was saying it until it came out. Sorry, Brigs.” But then he chuckled slyly and we continued on our way to ride the [expletive]ing crazy roller coaster where you stand up while you ride.

It was funny. I laughed it off.

Understand that in a school setting I wouldn’t have tolerated either action, but considering these kids were just three days away from graduating I knew it was time to let my little birdies fly. I didn’t have the heart to berate what I suddenly considered young adults, especially when both of them are terrific kids.

The whole day echoed the surreality of those moments because I was given the opportunity to see students as real people and not just minions I get to order around and assign essays to. On the bus ride home from the theme park I spoke with a lot of kids about college, love, parents, dreams, and memories. These weren’t like our previous classroom discussions from English 2; they were regular ol’ people discussions, and by the time they concluded, the experience had become one of the most rewarding of my teaching career.

Some students talked about the excitement and anxiety of leaving home. Others wondered about the difficulty of college and relationships and work. A handful just wanted to reminisce about funny moments from a class they took with me, and a couple even told me I was their favorite teacher (and, I think, actually meant it).

For some reason I’ve been looking at students very formally (though pleasantly) while they’re in school—the way a waitress might look at a customer. The minute I no longer had to see them as my job, I got to see them as people, and this particular graduating class is an especially bright, enjoyable group of young people.

Graduation was yesterday and I got to see all my kids experience that important rite of passage. When it was all over, some wanted hugs, some wanted to take a picture with me, and some just wanted to hear me say “Congratulations.” Whatever the request, I was happy to oblige.

The only thing I wouldn’t do is flip someone off or drop an f-bomb. I’ll save those for next year’s senior trip.

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