Tales from the Classroom, Part VIII: The Bathroom Arsonist

So I was minding my own business, just relaxing and watching a riveting episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County Criminal Minds when I remembered this nugget from my early days of teaching.  It involves arson, 13-year old girls and toilets, so it’s a can’t miss blog, amirite or amirite? Let us proceed . . .

It was my second year of teaching and I was full of vim, vigor and the blind belief that I was in it for the kids.  By the way, what the hell is vim? Something akin to vigor I presume? Whatever, I’m using it this year when I coach. “Let’s see some vim out there today boys!” Yeah, maybe not. Anyway, don’t get me wrong, I’m still in it for the kids but on the odd day I sometimes lack the vigor and, uh, vim.  Am I even close to the point of this blog yet? The answer is no. Focus, Shoe, focus.  OK, my point is I was young and very idealistic. Keep that in mind as I recount the following anecdote.

As I still do today, I told my students that they could come to me about anything if they needed help and I would help them anyway I could. I also told them I would do it confidentially. I figured hey, what’s the worst they could tell me? (That’s foreshadowing folks. Stuff like that separates me from the other, less talented bloggers). My problem was, at that time I wasn’t really prepared or experienced enough to back up that promise.

With this in mind, one day an 8th grade girl came into my class during my lunch break. I’ve always eaten lunch in my room because #1, I don’t want to hear a bunch of people bitching, and #2, I’m anti-social and/or lacking that gene that allows one to engage in small talk.. But back to the girl. Let’s call her Gloria. Gloria was red-eyed and had obviously been crying. I put down my bag of Pop Rocks (hey, it was 1985) and asked what was wrong. Here’s the conversation that transpired:

Gloria: “Remember when you said we could come and talk to you about anything?”

Me: “That’s right Gloria. Anything. What’s the problem?”

Gloria: “And you said you wouldn’t tell anyone what we said?”

Me, sensing trouble: “Y-e-a-h, I said that.”

Gloria: “Well, there’s something I need to get off my chest but I don’t want anyone to know about.”

Me: “O . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . K.” (This was followed by an audible gulp from me. You had to know Gloria).

Gloria: “Well, I was the one who set the girl’s bathroom on fire last week. I was mad at my boyfriend and threw a match into the trash can. I had no idea it would cause such a big fire with so much smoke. I also didn’t realize all those fire trucks would come to school, everyone would be evacuated, we’d get to go home early and there’d be a big article in the paper about how the cops were searching for the culprit. Thanks Mr. Shoe!”

With a wave and a smile she was gone.  After sitting for a few seconds in shock and then quite possibly throwing up in my trash can, I ran after her, caught her, and somehow talked her into doing the right thing. Long story short I went with her to see the principal and the three of us went to the police station to plead for mercy. Because she turned herself in, Gloria got off light and never spent time in the Juvi Slammer, thus saving her from an encounter with a manly young lady named Spike.

Lesson learned however. Never make promises to students you’re not prepared to keep.

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