School starts at 8 a.m.
In my classroom, six, maybe seven of twenty-seven kids are here when the bell rings. A couple more come in a couple minutes after eight. A few filter in a few minutes later, and usually, on a good day, when the CTA's running OK and it's not raining or snowing or sunshining too brightly, about twenty-two kids have made it by 8:20.
Today's a good day. We're learning something about Chaucer, only two heads have landed on desks, everything's smooth, we're getting stuff done, when all of a sudden a disturbance at 8:35 as the door swings open. In walks Junior, eyes glazed over, feet sliding along, not really strong enough to move this 16 year old's thin frame. He steps into the room and right into a desk. Smiles. Moves forward, sways, and stumbles headfirst into another obstacle, another desk, this time occupied by another body. A few more steps, a few more stumbles, and Junior lands safely in his desk. His head is too heavy for his neck.
It's 8:35 in the morning and one of my students is too drunk to sit. I step into the hallway, flag down a security guard. Junior is escorted out of the room. The next ten minutes are wasted. The bell rings, kids leave, laughing about the drunk kid in their first period class.
I've got time for a bathroom break, walk into the hallway, which is loud and animated and a living, breathing thing, this narrow space full of slow walkers and fast talkers, cell phones and curse words. Heading my way is the security guard with Junior. I approach, smile. Junior scowls. I put my hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, listen, sorry about busting you back there. I was just ... worried about your safety. I thought you might fall and get hurt," I say. "So, yeah, I hope we're still OK?"
He looks at me, breaks into a smile. "That's all right," he says. "You're still my favorite teacher!"
And he's off. And here I am, having received the greatest compliment a teacher can get, music to a teacher's ears. But I feel bad for this kid, the drunk kid who likes me despite me getting him in trouble. I only see him two or three times a week. He has only turned in three or four assignments, and it's already late November. I don't really know him. Plus, really, I'm not that great of a teacher. So, really, if I'm the best he's got, he's in trouble.
Later on I see the security guard. "I couldn't believe he said that to you," he says. "But it must be true. You should have heard him in the discipline office, he was saying how much he likes you and your class. You're doing a great job with these kids."
"Thanks," I say, doubting him but wishing it were true.