"One of these days, Karl is probably going to stab me outside of school," I admitted to a co-worker as we left for the day.
My co-worker smiled, but looked concerned, as if she couldn't tell if I was being my usual comical self. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"I don't know, with the kind of shit I say to kids sometimes, I'm surprised it hasn't happened already. These guys need tough love, so we have to play teacher and parent. A kid like Karl, for example, is not hearing what he needs to hear at home. For him, that means unfortunately he has to learn principles of life and algebra in the same classroom."
We continued talking as we walked towards the subway station. Karl and a handful of other students suddenly stepped into view across the intersection and began approaching us. My co-worker stopped mid-conversation and gave me a concealed look of panic, which made sense since I'd just confessed I wouldn't be surprised if Karl stabbed me. We kept moving forward, maintaining eye contact with the students rapidly approaching us.
To be clear, Karl sold drugs to students in school. I wasn't sure what the administrators knew about his dealings, but every student in my school talked about it and nearly every teacher suspected it. Although Karl's attendance wasn't bad, he never accomplished a single thing in any of his classes, which meant he came to school with ulterior motives. In my experience, that meant dealing, stealing, or some combination of the two. Karl did it all and was pretty vocal about his actions.
Karl was in my remedial Algebra course. In our first few weeks together, I thought I could help him, but he resisted in every way. I adjusted my strategy several times until I finally figured out what he was really doing in school. Then, after a lot of back-and-forth mostly in front of his peers, he and I finally came to an understanding. Karl would come to my class, plug his phone into the wall to charge, and sit quietly or sleep. Normally, he would be very rude and disruptive, often sexually harassing some of my female students, which I didn't tolerate. He finally learned that discussing sex, drugs, and theft with other students in my class was not in his best interest, since this type of behavior would catch my attention immediately and then I'd have to "put him on the spot." He hated arguing with me in front of other students, probably because he always lost but most likely because he learned nothing he said bothered me. He called me all sorts of names and insults, but I remained cold with a big smile. This bugged the shit out of him.
Karl had broken his informal promise with me the day before he approached my co-worker and me outside. Sitting next to another male student with poor attendance, he began bothering the female students in class by throwing pieces of paper at them and asking them if they were pregnant. After several redirection attempts, I called him out on what he was doing, and highlighted the illogical arguments he was making in front of the class. He finally grew silent. Victory was mine, so I finally went back to facilitating the day's lesson.
As Karl and his friends approached us in front of the subway, I replayed the events of the classroom the day before. I imagined he could have been angry, but he was not the type to hold grudges. He respected me, probably because valued that I knew his motives in school. I was the first to speak, "Hey Karl, didn't see you in school today. You guys just chilled in front of the subway all day or what?"
"Nah Mista, we was arrested!" They all flashed their wrists at me and I was stunned to see red imprints of handcuffs on all of their wrists. All of them really had been handcuffed recently.
"Wait, what? For what?" my colleague asked, surprised and probably relieved.
"We was trespassing in this building, looking for a party. That's OD, how they gonna arrest us for jus walkin' around? I'm not playin', we was carrying mad weed, now we got nothin'. Ugh, I'm tight." Karl admitted. He was clearly upset and frustrated.
Another student from the group also looked agitated. He turned to my co-worker, whom I guess was his teacher and said, "Miss, I'm sorry I didn't come, but they held us there all day. They didn't even give us food. No lie, I'm bout to hit this Chinese buffet right here. I'm dumb hungry Miss. Matta fact, Imma order two Chinese buffets, that's how hungry I am Miss!"
My colleague and I looked at each other and laughed. "You know a Chinese buffet is unlimited right? You don't need to order two, you get unlimited with one." I explained, smiling.
"You right Mista." Karl turned to his friend, "See, you can't deck this n!gga. N!gga be usin' his brain n' all dat."
I really enjoyed the subway ride home that evening.