I got a new student last week. I got a little worried when one of my least favorite students got really excited at the prospect of this student moving back into town, but to begin with they stuck this kid in another class and all was well. Unfortunately, after a couple of days the powers that be inexplicably switched him into the same class as that least favorite student I was talking about.
Let's just say that, despite my tendency to ignore warning signs and treat all students with respect until they turn out to be worthless, I should have just accepted the fact that this kid was going to be another turd in a class that is largely just a pile of crap anyway.
We were doing research last week, a part of the year that I hate with my lower classes. It's typically a big waste of time because research is a lot more labor intensive for the kids than they're used to and about half of the kids in these classes are so apathetic that getting them to write a complete sentence to turn in their thesis statement is asking too much.
On the sunny side, at least it means that I don't have a lot of papers to grade at the end of the year. I hate grading papers. I guess it's really a love-hate thing then.
Anyway, I had set up my little station in the center of the library so that kids could easily find me to ask questions and I could keep an eye on all parts of the room at once, so of course most of the kids set up shop on the back row of computers so I couldn't see their screens. After a few walk-throughs confirming the fact that most of them had done so for work-avoidance reasons, I moved my station to set up shop right behind them. Apparently my act of vigilance offended the tender sensibilities of the new kid, because after all, it was his right to troll social networking sites at school instead of working on his education and I was seriously infringing on that right. After a few minutes of his stewing at the injustice of it all, he turns around and asks me if I like women. I know where this is going. I have nothing against homosexuality and I haven't taken offense at being confused for one since I was in high school. Besides having exclusively taught in schools in communities with low levels of education and high levels of poverty, you get used to this particular question and accusation. Uneducated men just have a tendency to see intelligence as gay. They also see the accusation of homosexuality as the ultimate insult, so despite having been told once that I just wasn't gay enough to play a gay man on stage, I get this a lot from my male students.
Instead of saying what I wanted to say (I'll get to that later) I responded with a bored, "You do realize this is an inappropriate question to ask a teacher, right?" Undaunted, he went on with his line of thought, "You know, because you look like you like dudes." Satisfied with his quick wit, he turned back to stare at the background of his computer's desktop. Without looking up from my magazine, I responded only with, "You know I have to write you up for that one," and left it at that.
Now, I hate writing someone up for that because it makes me feel a little dirty like my claims of open-mindedness are just posturing on my part. The problem is that to this student and most of the class, that was a pretty serious insult and a serious assault on the teacher's authority. Of course my lackadaisical response gutted some of the impact of the insult, but letting it slide completely would have encouraged more problems in the future.
The real rub here isn't the fact that some kid called me gay and I had to betray my progressive attitudes to write him up for that. I'm really quite good at ignoring the duplicity between my actions and beliefs. I'm quite shallow that way. What really grated on my nerves is the fact that I couldn't just use a comeback and turn the whole thing around on him. My first instinct when he asked if I liked "dudes" was to reply with, "Sorry, I'm not interested. I'm happily married, but I'm sure you'll find someone who'll love you the way you deserve one day." When he got that confused look that would be the inevitable result from such an unexpected twist in the way he thought things would occur, I'd simply explain, "There's no reason you would care if I were gay or not unless you were wanting to ask me out. After all, no gay man is ever going to find you attractive in the first place so you don't have to worry about them coming after you or anything." When he started getting indignant, blustering but not able to get anything out because of his rage, I'd attempt to calm him with, "I'm not saying that you're ugly. I'm sure certain types of girls find you quite dreamy. I'm just saying that you're not exactly up to a gay man's typically exacting standards."
Of course I could have just said, "Your mom would have disagreed with you last night," but it wouldn't have been quite as elaborate or emotionally crippling.
I'm sure the whole thing would blow the poor kid's little mind. Of course then he'd run straight to the principal to say that I called him gay, I'd be called in and either reprimanded or fired (because it would have killed the satisfaction of the act to call him out in the hall and tell this to him without witnesses) and I'd be out of a job.
And yes, I have gotten to the point that I refer to 18-year-old tenth graders as kids.