Teachin' For America

Thoughts and otherwise on one particular Teach for America experience.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Case of the Hidden Dondom

     The day was shaping up to be like any other day.  Three boys had made their way to the line on the playground where all of the students are supposed to meet me every morning.  The rest of the Victors had straggled into the room at their usual, whenever-they-felt-like-it times.  By 8:25 I was only missing one, “Montel,” my perpetual latecomer.  Everything was going to be fine.  At this time I started the long, painful process of getting my students into a line.  I gave clear instructions, reminded those who typically straggle to hurry up, and wished, wished, wished for a calm, orderly, and speedy process.  It was probably my fault for just wishing for results instead of watching each kid like a hawk and demanding them, but my wish did not come true.  I had managed to get most of them moving toward the door when, from the very front of the amorphous blob they had formed in their best impression of a line, came the cry of my mush-mouthed tattle-tale, “Amani.”  “Ooooh, loo wha he dot!” she exclaimed, gesturing with little coordination in “Keifer’s” general direction.  “It in hi shoe!”  If my body language had conveyed my feelings at that point, I would have hung my head and shaken it in defeat, slumped my shoulders, and walked toward Keifer with every intention of shaking him until whatever contraband he was holding rattled to the floor.  I’m not sure what I actually did, only that I was able to keep myself from shaking anyone.
     “What does he have?” I asked Amani defeatedly.  “I hope it’s nothing that you’re not supposed to have, Keifer.”  Unfortunately, both my question to Amani and my statement to Keifer were intercepted and returned by my resident “motormouth,” “Charlene”.  
     “Mm hmm,” she said with both duty and glee in her voice, “It somethin’ he ain’t sposta have! It a…”  Instead of finishing her sentence, Charlene pursed her lips in a smile both self-conscious and self-righteous and looked wide-eyed around the room.  I was left to come up with what Keifer had from my own imagination until Amani broke my brief moment of introspection.
     “It a cah-“ she cried, cutting herself off before the entire word had escaped her lips.  While this comment and partial disclosure of Keifer’s contraband possession limited the possibilities somewhat, my mind was still racing in an attempt to guess what it was.  
     “What?” I asked, hoping to coax a clarification out of her.  
     “It tumtin’ I taint say,” came the mushy reply.
     I frustratedly shook my head and rolled my eyes and began walking toward Keifer.  I looked to the other students to see if they would be willing to share before I reached him.  Charlene quite naturally was more than willing.  “It’s a ______,” she said, indicating the blank by closing her mouth and moving her head forward as if she were saying a very important word.  Then she gave me undoubtedly the best line of the morning: “It’s a dondom, but switch it around.”  Goodness gracious.
     So it became clear to me that Keifer had a condom in his shoe.  This determination was based on the excitement the girls had shown upon seeing what he had as well as the reluctant and cryptic way they had identified it.  These cues also told me that it was a well established fact that Keifer should not have had a jimmy hat in school.  So I realized that Keifer’s possession of a contraceptive had now become my problem.  But it wouldn’t do to play out the incident right there, so I moved the class quickly down to their various general education classrooms, keeping Keifer with me.  Once we were alone I sat him down on a chair in the hallway.
     “Okay, Keifer,” I said.  “Take off your shoe.”  He very cooperatively took off his right shoe- the one I knew was empty- and looked up at me as if I would soon have no choice but to vindicate him.  “Keifer,” I said, “the other one too.”  At this command he dropped his head, let loose one of his trademark “Maaaaaaaaaan” whines, and roughly removed the sneaker from his left foot.  When nothing was immediately visible, I picked it up and turned it upside down.  To my disappointment and mild bemusement (but certainly not to my surprise), a crumpled up, red, Lifestyles brand condom dropped to the floor.  I sighed.  What could Keifer, an eleven year-old, sixth-grade boy with mild mental retardation, need with a condom- at school no less.
     Getting the answer to this question proved quite difficult.  Over the course of two discussions about what he had brought, Keifer fingered no fewer than three other boys as having been the person who “told” him to bring it to school.  I learned that he had found it in his eighteen year-old cousin’s bedroom, that he did not, in fact, know what its real use was, and that, apparently, sixth graders use condoms as neat accessories for fireworks.  That’s right: condoms and fireworks.
     Apparently it is quite a thrill to, as Keifer kindly described for me, place a condom on the business end of a lit roman candle and watch the sparks and rubber fly.  Keifer and I also discussed the fact that bringing a condom to school was not nearly as cool as he thought it was, as anybody can buy them at the nearest drug store or gas station.  I tried to emphasize that condoms were made with one purpose in mind, that it was an important purpose, and that to use them for other things was just kind of silly.  He seemed unconvinced, which leads me to believe that blowing a condom off the top of a roman candle must be totally awesome.  


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