D and I often experiment in the chemistry lab together. I have a student teacher right now, so I have the luxury of pulling out my most egregious troublemakers (like D) to give them my full attention. The chemistry lab is usually unoccupied, and right across the hall from my classroom, so that’s where exiles retreat to.
Our school was built almost 70 years ago. The cabinets in the science rooms are formerly gorgeous, glass and blonde wood built-ins. Quite a few of the floor tiles are missing. It smells mysterious and dangerous. The windows are huge: maybe eight feet tall. They present a panoramic view of fast food places, shops, and trees. None of the windows have screens. One of the windows has a neatly lettered sign that says, “Do not open this window.” I think that’s because it would fall out three stories and break. Half of the stool seats are chewed up, so the wood snags your clothes.
In spite of all that, I find the lab generally pleasant. There is one comfy orphaned office chair. I sit in that, in front of the wrong side of a desk that has a splintered seat attached. It’s a great place to look at the sky. The lab is where the chemistry teacher maintains our the third-floor coffeemaker. My coworkers drift in and out, and we joke and gossip about the kids and sometimes I pantomime wringing their necks.
When the class is reading “The Crucible” and D gets kicked out, we sit on stools next to each other. I read half the parts, and he reads the other half. I hope that he will read John Proctor’s part, although I would prefer to. I add some explanatory asides. D tells me he doesn’t know anything about the play, but then I ask him questions and he generally answers them correctly.
For a while, D worked at the Jiffy Lube around the corner from my house. I saw him one Sunday afternoon, holding up a sign advertising $19.99 oil changes. He looked sheepish when I stopped to say hello. Apparently he works at least two jobs.
D has drifted between homes. We always have some kids like that, who are not always sure where they are going to sleep that night. Whose parents and grandparents get frustrated and kick them out of the house. I understand why you would want to kick D out of the house, though. He’s smart, snarky, and stubborn. He can really drive you nuts.
The reason he’s still in school and not expelled is that in between driving you nuts, he is smart and good-natured. He still has baby fat in his face. When the teachers complain about him, they do it with an affectionate hint in their voices.
Today D got yanked from class for yelling across the room while he was supposed to be listening to the instructions about outlining. When I went over to give him a warning, he waved his hand around theatrically to show everyone how bad my breath was.
Although he walked across the hall with all deliberate slowness, once he was actually installed in the chemistry lab, he asked some good questions and started his outline. He will again say, “I don’t know anything about this,” and then I have to cajole him into admitting what he does know. That’s what we do in the chemistry lab. Put things together carefully, so they don’t explode.