Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Every 12 year old I know has only two sworn enemies: body odor and combination locks.  Both seem to mystify and confound even my smartest students.  Students who seem to believe that dollar store perfume and Axe body spray somehow replace soap and water.

Unlocking a combination lock is the ultimate test for adolescent youth.  It requires patience, attention to detail, and enough memory space to store 3 numbers.  None of these happens to be a 7th grader's greatest attribute.  I might as well have given them the instructions in Japanese or asked them to divide 8 by eleventy-billion.  Their blank stares haunt my dreams.

The first few weeks of 7th grade each year are full of crying, begging, and bargaining.  There are even a few punches thrown in absolute rage.  Learning to work their lockers is a full-on adventure into the 5 stages of grief -- for them and for me.

Stage 1: Denial
With an entirely new administration and an almost 50% new teaching staff, there were certain things that fell by the wayside in planning.  One of the most notable of these was, you guessed it, lockers.  So for 3 weeks, students wandered in and out of classrooms, all willy-nilly, carrying their backpacks.  Not a big deal, I thought, until I almost met my demise courtesy of Jansport interference within my inner loop.  Every day, no fewer than 37 children would interrogate me on the whereabouts of their locker combinations.


I'm telling you.  EVERY. FREAKING. DAY.

So, we gave them lockers.  They tried them. Once.  The next day, 37 children wandered aimlessly into my classroom -- with their backpacks.

"What happened to your demand for lockers, Norma Rae?" I asked.

"Lockers?  I never wanted a locker.  What do I need a locker for?  And who's Norma Rae?"

This.  This and that damned blank stare.  I have now endured the blank stare for 17 days with some of my kids.

Stage 2:  Anger
Me: "Put your backpack in your locker.  Put your backpack in your locker.  PUT. YOUR BACKPACK. IN. YOUR LOCKER."

Them:  (shock. indignation. gasps.)  "Whaaaatttt?  Huh?  No."

Me: (silently pointing at the lockers, blocking the door)


Stage 2 involves a tremendous amount of anger, on both their part and my own.

And for the record, if you punch your locker out of illogical and asinine rage, I will not drop everything to give you a nurse's pass for your hand.  Those are what I like to call "natural consequences".  Deal with it.

Stage 3:  Bargaining
This is a good one.  Stage 3 involves all sorts of promises.  But if you've ever known/depended upon a 12 year old to follow-through, you know how it will end.  So, much of Stage 3 just involves me either looking away and pretending not to hear OR masking my still-burning hostility with a look of bemused ambivalence.

"I'll be so quiet if you let me bring in my backpack."
"I won't tell anyone else you let me bring it in."
"I swear I'll learn my combination tomorrow."
"This is the last time I'll need your locker key."
"No, really... this is the last time I need your locker key."
"Can you open my locker with your key one last time?"

Stage 3 also sometimes involves tears.  It doesn't matter if it's a boy or girl.  For the first 7-10 days of learning lockers, someone will cry.  Guaranteed.  Tears are a child's only real bargaining strategy.

It's sad, but not in the intended way.

Stage 4: Depression
This one tends to fade quickly.  And if it doesn't fade, it just jumps straight back to anger.  The default setting for most adolescent youth is usually just anger at everyone over the age of 16, so this makes sense.  But there is a TREMENDOUS amount of whining and foot-dragging as I force kids to their locker to make them "Show me.  Show me how you can't possibly open your locker."

Stage 5:  Acceptance
The absolutely most gratifying stage of any teacher's day.  This is the moment where you relish the win. You have feasted upon their tears, grown strong from their hate, and proven, once more, that you will outlast them.

It's also the moment where, yesterday, after quickly visiting all 4 of the first stages within 45 seconds with a student, I marched her down to her locker, made some quick observations about her lack of combination lock finesse, and taught her the Way of the Locker.  I am, essentially, the Mr. Miyagi of Lockerdom.

The Way of the Locker:
  • Ignore the written directions. They're stupid.
  • Listen to me. I am Mr. Miyagi.
  • Shut up.  It's not important who he is except that he's awesome.
  • Breathe.
  • Go right. Slow down as you approach the number.
  • Go left. Pass it up... slow it down.
  • Go right. Pay attention.
  • If you mess up, start again.
  • Repeat as many times as necessary.
  • Don't forget to breathe.
  • Celebrate.
Which I did when she opened it three times in a row.  I threw up my hands to signal a touchdown and loudly proclaimed, "I MAKE MIRACLES HAPPEN!" in front of the Assistant Superintendent of Administration who happened to be visiting.

I didn't care.  Let him judge.  Let He who has not spent the last 32 days in Stages 2 and 3 cast the first stone.

And then let him take on the next one.  That kid stinks.  Probably because his Axe body spray has been securely locked away for 16 days.

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