Friday, November 19, 2010

Second Suspension: Lessons learned

The second time I got suspended

My disdain for school officials and penchant to battle injustice bled into my freshman year in high school. It was a combination of these two factors that landed me my second suspension at Mount Saint Michael.

It was around 11am as I sat in Algebra class along with my fellow classmates taking a test. The morning had started innocuous. The blue skies offered unfettered passage to the sunlight that flooded the inside of the second floor classroom. 

I had studied the night before and was doing relatively well in the course. Relatively well for me meant I was earning a B average. My anxiety level was low and my leg had not shook up and down as it had when I was not prepared for a test. Many of my colleagues had already finished and sat with their paper turned over waiting for the bell to ring.

There were usually two bells. The first bell indicated the end of class. After five minutes, the second bell would ring that indicated the start of the next class.

Anyone entering class after the second bell was subject to after school detention. Detention was seen mostly as an annoyance to some students who routinely had disciplinary problems. Being that I had been suspended before and often was slow in getting to my next class - I mostly saw it as a VERY BIG annoyance.

Students in detention were usually held for one hour being babysat by a teacher who was getting a few dollars above his regular pay to read the newspaper or grade papers. The regular routine was to get our books out and complete homework or read. The worst detentions occurred when we had some anal retentive teacher who found pleasure in having us write 200 times “I will not misbehave.”   

After awhile, some detentions became a cool way of making time to study. Other times, it was pure hell knowing that you were missing a sunny afternoon playing tag football after school with friends.

But on this day, detention for staying late to complete a test did not worry me. The first bell rang and students jumped to their feet, gathered their test and belongings, dropped of their test on the teacher’s desk, and rushed out the door. I could hear quiet question of students asking how each other performed on the test. However, chatter was at a minimum partly out of respect for those still taking the exam. 

The teacher announced that he would not give late passes for the next class so we should finish up and rush to our next class. No late pass would certainly mean detention if I arrived at the next class after the second bell, I thought to myself. Undeterred, I continued to scribble numbers on my paper. I still had a question to complete.

My teacher was a competent mathematician. He was a friendly man that liked his students. He took pleasure in helping students and often asked me how I was doing in my studies. I always felt good about that. I often wished more of my teachers took an interest in how I was coming along in my other classes. I thought of him as I sat trying to make certain that my test score did not disappoint him.

Algebra is not a thing one can rush especially when a question has several steps. One could be at the second step in a five-step problem and stopping in the middle of solving it was not an option. That was my dilemma. Should I continue and finish this problem and risk going to detention for being late to my next class or stop now and risk getting this answer incomplete. I chose to stay and finish. I could do detention but I could not and would not disappoint my math teacher. It is one of those decisions that you make at the spur of the moment, which you regret a few hours later, and much later in life you see how insignificant that decision was in the myriad of all life decisions.

I finished the question and looked up at the boy that was standing over me waiting for me to vacate the seat. His facial expression looked like a store owner that came upon a vagrant sleeping in front of his storefront gate in the early morning.

“Yo! you need to get up!” He said.

“Ok! Hold on damn, it’s not like you are about to get mugged while standing there.” I said as I stood up from the desk.

I gathered my things and handed in the test. As I walked out the door, I realized I was not the last person. A White boy named Jimmy had just finished and he was in the next class with me. The second bell sounded as both of us exited the class.

“Man we are late!” I said to Jimmy in an alarmed tone as both of us sprinted down the hallway, our black heeled shoes clacking on the linoleum floor. Lockers flashed by as we neared the door leading us downstairs to the first floor. Jumping four steps at a time, I landed on the first floor in no time.

Both of us ran across the quad to the brown brick building next the dormitory where the Brother’s lived.

I flung open the door to the building and entered with Jimmy close behind. I was panting hard already. My shirt tail had already made it out of the back of my khaki pants. Thoughts of running home trying to make curfew crossed my mind. I thought to myself - same situation different day.

We climbed two flights of stairs swinging our arms wildly. I was in front and Jimmy brought up the rear. We got to the landing on the second floor and made a left turn around the corner.

The door to the classroom was less than 20 feet away. We dashed down the off-white colored tiled floor. I passed the water fountain and stopped to get a drink. Jimmy whizzed by me coming to a complete stop in front of the classroom door down the hall. With my head facing him, sipping the arch of spewing cold water, I saw him open the door and walked in. Damn, I thought. He is walking in. I released the button on the fountain, dashed towards him and as I got to the door it slammed in my face. BAM!

Stunned, I opened the door and looked at Jimmy heading for his seat. The teacher had not said a word yet or at least I did not hear her if she did. The other students were seated and looking at me and Jimmy. I wondered why everyone was so silent.

The female teacher erupted in a stern voice, “Mr. Salandy, please go and get a late pass.”

I replied as I continued walking, “I was taking a math test. Sorry I am late.”

She reiterated, “I do not care if you were getting CPR. You are late. So please go to the main office and get a late pass.”

Student chuckled at her comment.

Maybe she did not understand what I said. Maybe my sweet Trinidad accent was not clear.

I offered my argument, “Jimmy who just came in was taking the same test. How come he does not have to get a late pass?”

Again she said as she stood, “I will not say it again. Please get a late pass.”

I blew a gasket. She had refused to acknowledge the injustice in her decision to allow Jimmy to sit and me to get a late pass.

Frustrated, I turned to her and said, “This is bullshit!”

A chorus of “Damns!”, “Ooohs!”, and “Oh Snap!” erupted from the class. The outburst made my words seem like daggers being thrown at the teacher.

She quickly came from behind the desk, whisked by me in a huff, opened the door, and left the classroom.

I stood halfway between the door and my seat not knowing exactly what to do. Students were looking at me or claiming to their friends that I had lost it. I am certain I heard crazy at least three times. A classmate said to me, “Hey Salandy. You should start walking home now because I do not think you will survive the rest of the day at school.”  

I turned and looked dead at Jimmy and said, “Jimmy you are an asshole for slamming that door in my face. You could have held it open for me. Shithead!” I turned and walked out the classroom.

I thought about going home but decided to hit the cafeteria. They had staggered lunches and one class was in there at the moment. The cafeteria was located in a large building on the quad. It was a fairly large cafeteria with a capacity of 300. Students could purchase lunch or bring one from home. I often brought my lunch from home. I entered the building and looked for my friends. The cafeteria as always was buzzing with chatter and laughter. Groups of boys were discussing everything from girls to sports. Mount’s football team was always a topic of conversation.

I found a group of friends sitting together in the center of the room. I sat down, said hi, and unpacked my ham and cheese sandwich from the brown paper bag my mother had so deftly packed.

One of my friends immediately asked why I was out of class. I explained that I had gotten kicked out and followed with a thorough description of my indiscretion and Jimmy’s asinine behavior. My friend’s jaws dropped as they looked at each other and then back at me. 

“You did what?” one asked.

I knew then that I was in serious trouble.

I ate my lunch thinking of my possible punishment. I thought my behavior required punishment that was way beyond detention but who knew. Maybe I would just get detention for a few weeks and the situation would blow over.

Just then I looked up and into the eyes of my friend sitting directly across from me. His eyes were opened wide and his gaze was focused above my head. At that very moment, I felt a hand grab me by the collar of my jacket and ripped me from my seat. My sandwich fell between my legs as I scrambled to catch my balance.

I glanced behind me only to see the Dean of Students with his black beard and matching color habit. Students stopped eating and watched me being dragged across the cafeteria as if I had stolen some fruit from a corner store.

“What is this all about?” I asked as we got out the building and into the quad.

“Don’t act like you have an IQ of 60. You know what you did.” was the response from my captor.

I was man handled all the way to the office without another word being exchanged between me and the Dean. I was placed on the seat outside his office and told to stay there.

Moments later, the Dean opened the door to his office and asked me to come in. My teacher who I blatantly disrespected was seated in the office. I sat down in the chair next to her. For the next couple of minutes, I listened as she told every excruciating detail of my outlandish behavior.

I dropped my head. My behavior seemed totally egregious hearing someone else recant the incident. I was truly ashamed. I turned to my teacher and said sorry. I truly was sorry at that point. But I still could not shake the fact that there was an injustice done. I just took the incorrect approach in addressing it. I learned a valuable lesson that day.

I got suspended for two days, detention for three weeks, and my mother had to escort me back to school when I returned from suspension.

The lesson I learned that day stuck with me. Sometimes, in the face of injustice, we have to be strategic in our response. Outlandish behavior or insensitive words could weaken one’s position regardless how morally right that position may be.

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