It started in front of everyone, waiting for bus dismissal. When I asked Brax to get his homework out and he said, matter of fact, loud enough for the class-plus-10-spill-over-from-next-door to hear, said, “I ain’t doin my homework. I decided not to do my homework.”
If you need to know how loaded that proclamation was, read any of my last, oh, ten plus entries that mention the homework/any work struggle between Brax and I. This was not an average “I skipped a day.” This was a forthright, blatant, attention-craving test that I took a little too personally.
I knelt in front of him and made an immediate decision, “Just get your folder and set it on your desk. Don’t get your homework out.” This he did without hesitation.
It was then that Jack kicked my 113-pound bag of freshly collected and weighed pop tabs, ready for donation to Ronald McDonald House next month. His kick sent them spilling like a river, rushing through a leg-sized rip in the black garbage bag. The tag-team combination of defiance made me do a spin-and-scold, “Jack, think of how to solve that problem. Now.”
At this moment a student reminds me I’m taking Ms. Reading Teacher’s duty because she’s taking mine tomorrow, while I sprint to the airport with the last bell. I push all my students, save Brax and Jack, into another room. I tell the two remainders to follow me to duty.
There, I sit them on concrete against a brick wall. Jack thinking, Brax simmering, his Chicago Bulls hat low over his eyes. I hold out the green folder, homework out, red pen on top, to Brax, “This is your homework. Right now you are showing me you prefer to go to ALE.” (ALE is Alternative Learning Environment– AKA the place of no educational return, where it’s assumed you will learn little and be silent much, where the first 20 minutes of the day are spent milling about outside the office, being scolded with looks through a window.) “You are showing me you do not want to pass my class, or be in my class.”
He says nothing.
“There are seven questions you decided not to do before leaving my classroom yesterday. You need to finish them.”
“I ain’t doin my homework. You don’t make anyone else do they homework. You told us we didn’t have to do it. It’s extra.”
He’s referring to the last page, incomplete, “EXTRA CREDIT” across the top. I’m referring to the second-to-last page, half-finished, “WEDNESDAY’S HOMEWORK” across the top. I explain to him the difference.
“I did it,” he pleads. “I did it.”
“The bottom is empty, Brax.”
I leave him sitting there while I finish duty. His fourth grade teacher shows up, the woman who’s class just won the pop-tabs competition. Motivators I think. Can she be one for him? She asks what’s going on, I explain. Brax says, “I did the homework.” She replies, “Then why is there red all over it?” (the marks I made to show him the line between complete and not).
“I don’t know how to do it.”
She reads the directions at the place he stopped working: “Write five sixth grade words that are better than this dead word: SAD.” She says, “You know how to do this. You are choosing not to do it.”
Brax remains quiet.
(More story when I have the time to do it justice. Sigh, Brax. Sigh.)