Sunday, December 11, 2016

A BOY CALLED MISCHIEF



I recently had the opportunity to tutor some kids at the local middle school, and man, was it interesting.
I was homeschooled from second to eighth grade, which I honestly thank my parents for, because I was one of the most socially awkward, unadjusted, oblivious middle schoolers in probably the whole state of California. I could show you pictures of what I looked like and samples of what I wrote during that time, but seeing them would probably make your face vibrate in agony from all the cringe. Because I was like that, I’m thankful I didn’t have to suffer the cruelty of public middle school education, which, according to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is the exact opposite of heaven. (Diary of a Wimpy Kid might be exaggerated. Just a little. But I know that middle school--or any phase of life, as a matter of fact--isn’t a piece of cake, for anyone.)
As a reader and writer of middle grade fiction, I’m always curious to see and talk to and understand sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. It was especially interesting to see the ways the people there interacted--especially because they were all there for Saturday morning detention.
I’ve always been a rule follower. I’ve never really gotten in trouble. The slightest antagonism from anyone--teacher, student, adult--always makes my tear ducts super flowy. If I ever got detention for insubordination or whatever, I’d probably hole up in my room and cry for a bajillion hours and listen to lots of angry/depressed music. I’m not better than the kids I was tutoring--I have my own issues--but I could tell they were wired differently than I was.
So it was interesting for me.
The first Saturday I helped out at was pretty boring. Nothing super earth-shattering happened. But the second Saturday was honestly the trippiest Saturday morning I’ve had in a long time. (Especially since most of my Saturday mornings are spent sleeping. Being awake on a Saturday morning is trippy for me.)

It’s an awkward position, being a tutor. You don’t quite have the authority of a teacher, but there’s a sort of respect that middle school kids give you--you’re one of them, just older. And plus, you’re there to help them.
At the same time, though, there are kids who think they can get away with stuff. And there was this one particular kid--let’s call him Max (not his real name)--that just kept pushing the limit.
It all started when I noticed that he was playing 2048 on his computer. (Remember 2048? That game that was popular, like, three years ago? Yeah.) There was a little pop-down on his screen that let him play 2048, so there he was, grinding away at his keypad.
I peered over his shoulder. “Why are you playing that?” I asked. “Focus on your work.”
That was the beginning.
He gave me this super wide-eyed, half-fake-innocent, half-dang-it-I-got-caught look. Then he clicked back to his work.
Let me just pause here to interject that these kids get freaking Chromebooks. The school district recently decided that it was a good idea to give all the schools Chromebook carts. So, like, if the teacher decided to conduct an online exercise, the class wouldn’t have to walk to the computer lab, like they used to. The teacher can just check out the Chromebook cart for the day, and voila! No extra walking, burned calories, or unnecessary wasted time! Perfecto!
Not.
I can see why that’d work with high school students, but in my opinion, it’s a little wasted on the middle school students. A lot of them can’t control themselves, which means--like Max--they can easily get sidetracked on YouTube or playing irrelevant video games.
Anyway, back to the story.
I strolled around the room, but this time, I had my eye on Max. Not going to lie, he looked kind of like a troublemaker. Like the kind of kid who likes to think that he’s smarter, but isn’t really.
And, sure enough, I caught him playing 2048 again, from afar. This time, I had a weapon: I managed to procure his name from a girl I was helping with math homework. “Max,” I said. His head snapped around. “I know you’re playing 2048.”
“Where’d you get my--oh,” he said. “From her.”
Then he moved.
Instead of being productive and actually getting his work done, the kid moved to a desk adjacent to the wall and turned around with his back to the wall, so that I couldn’t see his computer screen.
That riled me up, man. From that moment on, I decided that I had beef with the kid. I kept an eye on him. But then he started playing the game again.
You know how I could tell?
When you’re playing 2048, you only use the arrow keys. Because I’m taller than a prepubescent eighth-grade boy who's sitting down, I could see that he was using his arrow keys.
“Max,” I said. “I can see that you’re using the arrow keys.”
He groaned and made a hullabaloo, and finally the teacher noticed that something was going on. She asked me if he was giving me trouble; I said yes. So she took his Chromebook away.
Later, as I was walking up and down the aisles, observing and trying to see if anyone needed help, this girl--who was apparently a friend of Max’s--asked me, “Why did you tattle on Max?” Her voice was laced with sass--lots of “I’d-hoped-you-were-cooler-than-that,” “you’re-a-high-schooler-you-should-know-better,” and “you-broke-some-bro-code.”
Because I’m not a quick thinker, I didn’t have the best comeback of all time. Even right now, I can think of a million other things I could’ve said.
But you know what?
After the teacher took the Chromebook away, at least Max actually worked on homework, like he was supposed to.

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