Action Taken Prior to Referral
by Danielle Holmes
I couldn’t tell if the students having a conversation outside my classroom door didn’t realize how loud they were, or if they meant for me to hear the imaginative ways they would abuse my “juicy ass” if given the opportunity. The faculty handbook—written at least 15 years prior— was excessively vague on the subject of disciplinary action: was it an act of “defiance” or a “threat”? Do I only address the behavior when explicitly acted out in class, or do I also tackle every inappropriate comment shouted during passing period—the hallways clogged with profanities of varying offense—address every hand gesture made to turned backs (when will they realize that I can see them behind me in the reflection of the window)? Does miming a boob-grab constitute a guidance referral or an individual behavior plan? What is the best euphemism to use when alerting parents to their child’s in-class comments about anal sex?
I stopped wearing high heels after an 11th-grader in my composition class referred to them as “fuck-me pumps” beneath his breath. I swore off lipstick upon finding a discarded ball of paper, unfolding to reveal a lipsticked kiss atop a pencil sketch of disproportionately wishful anatomy. Surely the other teachers in the hallway hear the catcalls as students pass by my closed door.
“How’s your character analysis coming?” I asked a freshman whose pencil was tapping out his frustrations on the desk. “Let’s see what you have so far,” I said, picking up his paper.
After pointing out the areas that needed more explanation, I asked him to repeat what I’d just said. He was unresponsive—eyes locked in deep analysis of my neckline.
A senior wrote a story about a student having an affair with his English teacher for my creative writing class, and I took it to the Principal.
“I’d like you to see this,” I said, the paper shaking in my hand as I passed it across his desk.
“Whoa-ho, this is some descriptive writing,” he said.
“I want him out of my class.”
“Hey, Carson,” he said, waving over the Assistant Principal, “take a look at this story! I told you we should’ve hired the obese guy from Perkins.” He slouched in his desk chair, set the paper aside.
I said, “What are you going to do about this?”
“Remember our French teacher in junior high?” the AP asked. “Johnson wrote her that love note and left it on her windshield?!”
“Fuckin’ Johnson. He’d do anything you told him, crazy sonofabitch. Too bad about Desert Storm.”
If they saw me leave the office, they gave no sign. The hallway was a red blur on the walk back to my classroom, only interrupted by the security guard’s plea for a smile.
The freshmen were conspiring, hands cupped to ears, sniggers into fists. They were supposed to be looking for textual evidence to support their given theme, but their search had gone awry.
“How’s it going over here?” I asked, approaching the loudest of the groups. “Do you have any questions?”
“I have a question,” one began, eye contact askance and flitting amongst his buddies. “How old are you, Miss?”
“Let me rephrase that: do you have any relevant questions?”
“Like 23? 21?”
“I had to go to college for four years and I’ve been teaching here for three—your math doesn’t add up. Get back to work, or you’re all going to do this individually.”
“At least like 25, then,” he whispered to his group when I walked away.
“Would you do her?” one asked.
“The question is,” he said, “what wouldn’t I do to her.”
At my desk I tried to go through e-mails, grade a few papers, but my thoughts were both scattered and tightly wound. I assessed my black slacks and crewneck sweater, my sensible flats—business casual wear purchased from the “professionals” section of the department store. Something in me wanted to set them on fire. Covered completely and yet I felt naked, filthy with the grime of adolescent appraisal. I’d have sacrificed the valedictorian for a bath. The group that had just contemplated my do-ability was waving me over once more, relentless in their questioning.
If I screamed would you hear me—have you been listening at all?
Danielle Holmes holds an MFA from Bennington College. Previous work has appeared in Easy Street, Animal, The New Flash Fiction Review, Cleaver, Pilgrimage, and elsewhere. She lives in Colorado (where she teaches high school English).