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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Line

I know teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but I definitely do. Kevin is my favorite. He has an identical twin who writes a little better and is quieter in class, but there's something about Kevin that I've never been able to pin point. He and his brother transfered into City from a vocational high school in the neighborhood, and while I'm skeptical of the decision that removed two 17-year-old sophomores from a reputable vocational school to a college preparatory high school, I cannot imagine this year without them.

From the second week of school forth, Kevin has tested "the line" with me. He pokes his head into my classroom on a regular basis and adds insight to my history lessons. His insight usually comes in the form of loud, pseudo-musical utterances of "Baby, baby... UGH!" Then he closes the door behind him and saunters off to the bathroom. He says I walk like a duck, and when I showed my students a picture of me running in college, he responded with, "Wait, why didn't you run like a duck?" I guess he conveniently forgot my introductory spiel in the beginning of the year when I told his class that I'd gotten MS when I was 19.

One day, earlier this year, he told a few of his peers about watching me push my wheelchair up the steps, and I felt him encroaching upon the esoteric "line." He was laughing and his classmates were laughing and, in an effort to take myself less seriously, I was probably laughing, but I'm horribly self-conscious sometimes, and I hate thinking about what I look like to others. I got the class settled and told Kevin - in a barely audible tone - to stay after class. Slightly shaken by my suddenly serious demeanor, he uttered, "Am I in trouble? You callin' my mom?" I reassured him that he was neither in trouble nor about to receive a parent phone call, and reiterated that I only wanted to talk to him for a second.

When the bell rang, his 27 peers charged out of the room, and Kevin remained seated, his already large eyes stretched wider than usual. He watched as I wheeled over to his desk and parked myself two inches away from him.

"Kevin, you're not in trouble, but there's something I want you to understand... I have a really good sense of humor - about pretty much everything, and especially about my MS. But I want to make sure you know that there are thousands of other people with disabilities who aren't anything like me. I'm one of the only people I know that laughs at myself and jokes about stuff that is actually kind of serious."

He looked away. "I know, Ms. Hooks."

I continued, "I mean, I don't want you to start making fun of someone someday, expecting that they'll laugh like I do, because -

"I know, Ms. Hooks. My dad's in a wheelchair."

I tried not to register a look of surprise on my face, and continued the conversation, "Really? And is he in his wheelchair all the time?"

"Yeah, he got shot."

"And do you joke around with him like you do with me?"

"No. Definitely not."

"Well I guess I just want you to know that as ridiculous as I act all the time, I don't want to 'duck walk' around this classroom and push my wheelchair up the steps every morning, okay? You can still joke with me, just -

"I got it Ms. Hooks. I'm sorry."

And with that, Kevin grabbed his Nike backback and left. He still pops his head into my room during just about every period, and he is still the center of attention all the time, but at this point - at least to Kevin - the duck-walk is dead.

2 comments:

Epiphany in Baltimore said...

Wow, I got goosebumps at the "My father is in a wheelchair" line.

You're a great writer!

John said...

Pretty helpful data, lots of thanks for your post.
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