When you least expect, the school bear sneaks upon you, and bites you in the educational behind. Sometimes, I knowingly invite the bear to try and devour me. The very last thing I ever want to do in my portable classroom, in the government school, on county taxpayer property, is to restrain a student. I only recall doing the “restraining deed” on two other occasions. On this occasion I tried every educational re-cue, (I love technical education stuff), trick in my bag and failed.
“You’re doing this because my kid is black,” the angry father yelled at me. We had both been summoned to the principal’s office due to the events of the previous day.
Ernest, a tall, lanky, loud, likeable kid had been assigned to my classroom sometime during the last month. He could not manage to be quiet during any class. Eventually, it wore one of his teachers down and he was issued a discipline report and sent to his principal’s office. The result was his assignment to me, during second period, to work on classroom social skills. I like Ernest. He is funny, smart, and a challenge. We generally get along well. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Ernest and his relationship with some other students. It is safe to say that he is not “cool” like the cool guys think they are.
Ernest is never dirty. He doesn’t seem to care how he dresses to come to school. Mismatched clothes could easily be his trademark. However, his hair has yet to meet a brush or comb it liked. He is never dirty just disheveled. Talking loudly is the one trait he possesses that agitates his peers. This skill is what led him to being restrained, to protect him from another student attacking and partially to get him away from my face.
“You’re doing this because my kid is black,” again the angry father yelled at me!
“Sir, that is not the case,” Ms. Wilson, Freshman Principal, said trying to calm the man.
“What else could it be? He’s a white man trying to teach my son.” He waved his hand in my direction both recognizing my presence and dismissing me at the same time.
“Okay, I understand your anger, but let’s look at the facts.”
“The facts are that he laid his hands on my son!”
“Sir, he probably was justified due to the circumstances,” Ms. Wilson tried to continue.
“It ain’t right. No white man should lay his hands on my son!” I watched, without comment, while his anger increased. It appeared he was less into defending his son’s honor and more into enjoying being the center of attention and being in charge.
“Okay, we’ll bring Ernest in and listen to his explanation of the events,” she said.
“He doesn’t have to be in here. I already heard his side. This white man ain’t got no right laying his hands on my son!” It was quickly becoming evident that this meeting was going nowhere, except perhaps to a due process hearing. I was shifting in my seat wanting to get back to my students. I stood to shift my position around, not to leave. Ernest’s father misunderstood. He rose quickly and moved close to my face.
He pointed his finger within an inch of my face and again yelled, “You’re doing this because my kid is black!”
“No, it’s because your son acted like an idiot,” I said. He swung his arm back forming a fist.
I enjoy wearing hats. My favorites are fedoras. They are long ago out of style, but appear to be making a comeback. I tend to wear a hat on rainy days. Umbrellas are inconvenient for me to carry. I’ve lost enough umbrellas to supply most teachers in my high school with one. So there I stood with my hat in my hand waiting to get punched by the irate father of one of my favorite students.
His fist was beginning to move toward my head. All I could do was toss him my hat. This caused him to hesitate and grab the flying hat in mid-air. What it really did was allow me the time to side step him, placing my left leg behind his left leg, forcing him backward and down to the floor. I stood over him. I offered my hand to help him back to his feet. He looked up at me and offered me back my hat. He took my hand and I took my hat.
“Let’s all calm down,” Ms. Wilson said revealing the panic in her voice.
“We’re okay. Right sir,” I asked?
“Yeah, we’re fine,” he said while straitening his jacket.
“I’ll talk to Ernest about working on his temper,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to Ernest coming back to my class. He’s a good young man.”
Ernest graduated this year. He wasn’t the head of his class nor was he at the bottom. His father sat behind me during graduation. He is a proud man. Ernest is the first, in several generations, of this family to graduate from high school. Already he is working at the local flour manufacturing plant where his father has worked for fourteen years.
Sometimes the bear bites you and sometimes you bite the bear.