Mariela was a fourteen-year old Guatemalan girl assigned to my sophomore English as a Second Language class. She was short, had a chubby body, and a wide face with features that looked as though they were stuck between childhood and adolescence. She carried a hello kitty keychain, pastel sparkle pens with tassels on the end and a pack of Newport cigarettes. She wore colorful barrettes in her hair that was usually held up with pom-pom elastic bands wrapped around each pigtail. She toted everything in a fuchsia Dora the Explorer back pack that was large enough to fit one small notebook, lip gloss, her fancy pens and what would soon become the infamous photo album. Mini mind, body and bag Mariela sat in class showing off her photo album to the girls sitting around her.
Like many students, she must have thought that hiding the photo album on her lap made it invisible to the eyes of anyone other than those intended to see it. At first I ignored it, choose your battles is what my mentor teacher instructed. I figured she would show the pictures for a few minutes then return to the lesson in which she was supposed to be learning English. She had not said much since I met her a few weeks earlier. Some might claim she was in the silent face of language acquisition and I may have agreed until I realized that she had no problems calling me a “stupid bitch” in both English and Spanish. On those frequent occasions, Mariela certainly was not silent.
Ten minutes later the photo album continued to circulate the room. My strategy to ignore the problem backfired. It was now a distraction that had to be addressed. While I was planning how exactly to deal with the issue, I realized that she was showing pictures of her and her thirty-year old boyfriend. “I always knew I would have an older man”, she exclaimed glowing. “I don’t have time for these high school boys”, she gloated. The other girls leaned in with heightened interest. “I want an older boyfriend too”, one girl chimed in. Another conferred in admiration, “Oh, I wish I was you”. The conversation spread quickly like pollution through the airwaves. Mariela’s photo album went from a minimal nuisance to a serious social problem in a matter of minutes. I knew that if I did not put a stop to this it would become contagious like pregnancy or criminal behavior. Dora the Explorer back packs and thirty-year old men just did not go together. She reluctantly gave it to me with the agreement that I would return it later.
At the end of the period Mariela approached my desk demanding for her precious photos. She must thought that later meant when the bell rang, but she was sadly mistaken. I explained that later meant when I could talk with her mother about the fact that her daughter was dating a man more than double her age. I placed the photo album inside my desk drawer thinking that our discussion was over. To my surprise, Mariela didn’t think it was over and within seconds she swatted the coffee mug from my desk. Hot, brown liquid splattered as the glass shattered into pieces on the floor. Her rampage continued as she proceeded to take out her frustrations on my crates of files. One by one she picked up each heavy crate and heaved it on the floor with the strength I did not expect from this little girl. Folders and papers flew through the air and soon floated down to join the coffee and glass. I stood in shock while students exiting the class looked at her and uttered one word to explain the situation, “loca”. They shook their heads, told me they would see me tomorrow and casually moved along to their next class.
After Mariela took her anger out on the classroom, she came for me. She attempted to throw her short, chubby over my desk, but her legs were not long enough to make the leap. She reconsidered and tried to get at me from each side of the desk. I bobbed and weaved to avoid her flailing arms and legs along with a slu of Spanish profanities. I realized that this could only continue for a short amount of time before it escalated into something much worse. It was clear that I needed some assistance. The options raced through my head. The halls were crowded with students passing to their next classes. The wing of the building where my classroom was located did not have a security guard, so calling out would not help. My only option would be to call the main office, yet the phone hung on the wall on the other side of the room. Quickly, I thought that the only way to get out of this situation was to call the office for help.
In teacher training they pounded in our heads never to touch a student, but this situation was surely different. There was nothing in the manual on how to deal with a student who was acting like a rabid animal intent on attacking me. So, I compromised. I did not touch Mariela, but instead I grabbed her Dora back pack and pushed her out the door into the hallway. Behind her the door closed and locked. Safe in my refuge I called the main office requesting an administrator. Mariella pounded on the glass with the force of something from Animal Planet trying to beat through the glass for what seemed like endless time. Her rant ceased a few minutes prior to the administrator’s arrival, just missing her. Maybe she got tired or perhaps noticed the door was locked and that she couldn’t shatter the glass. What I really hoped is that she realized that she was acting like a complete lunatic, but of course not because the next day she was back in my class calling me “puta tanta” for the next two months until she dropped out of school. Later, I heard that she was working at the McDonald’s drive thru window hopefully not serving hot coffee to unsuspecting customers.