Once upon a suburban high school semester, two of the most horrible creatures the planet had ever born became students in my class.  

They are long gone from my world now – they graduated years ago and today they are probably either incarcerated or asking you if you would like fries with that – yet calling each by a pseudonym still seems to constitute proper form.  So for propriety’s sake, let’s call him Lucifer, and we’ll refer to her as Mephistopheles – Meffie for short – but only because Fucking Asshole doesn’t yield a cute nickname.

These were two people, eighteen years old both of them, who, from the very first day of class, gazed at everyone with such disdain that I actually told Lucifer once that if he didn’t stop arranging his features in such an alarming manner, his face would freeze like that and he’d always end up looking like he smelled fresh mozzarella that was accidentally left in the backseat of somebody’s hot car – which incidentally, I’ve done, and the smell is beyond description.  I didn’t get a laugh or a chuckle or even a tiny sign that he was sorry for having his death-glare busted.  He just stared at me, his eyes blank and mean, and when the bell rang, I calmly walked to the classroom across the hall and told my friend Michael that if I disappeared, that kid should, at the very least, be questioned by the authorities.

I think it’s important to lay some background and explain that I’m a teacher who genuinely loves teaching.  Okay, so it’s June and perhaps now is not the most opportune time to articulate my feelings about my job, but even now, even when I spend eight hours a day in a non-air-conditioned room with no cross-breeze and over a hundred 18 year olds who are too consumed with who is riding in the gigantic Hummer on Prom Night to care about how Almost Famous follows Joseph Campbell’s Mythic Hero’s Journey almost to the letter, I can still maintain that I typically enjoy what I do.  

I’m not someone who got into teaching because we get summers off.  

I didn’t become a teacher because I thought that, if I one day had kids, I’d get to be home in time to get them off the yellow bus.

I became a teacher because I enjoy the academic life; it’s something I became comfortable with early.  My parents both worked at colleges – my dad was a professor and my mom was a Dean – and I all but grew up on their campuses.  I learned that school could be a place where learning could be fun but that inspiration did not have to take place in a room with desks and a chalkboard.  I saw that dunk tanks during Spring Carnivals could really exist outside of the movies.  And instead of coloring books, sometimes when I was little I would draw my pictures of houses with one huge tree in those blue essay books my father made his English and Comedy students use for exams.

(When my father particularly wanted to fuck with a student, he’d give the kid an F+ on a paper – and to this day I find that utterly hilarious.)

I’ve genuinely liked most of my students over the years.  They have been wise and insightful and compassionate and lost and evolving and broken and sometimes desperate for a connection.  They have coped with depression and schizophrenia and some have recovered from bouts of promiscuity – and maybe nothing is more horrifying to hear than when a seventeen-year-old whispers to you that she went through her slutty drug phase in middle school.  They have been bulimic and they have been cutters and they have been brilliant photographers and they have been phenomenal writers.  

One taught me how to edit on Final Cut with the patience of a saint.

One tried her very best to teach me how to knit until she finally allowed herself to realize that dexterity is not my biggest strength.

Another, through her stories and her confessions, taught me how to never ever raise children.

Some of the kids I’ve taught have been really funny, gifted with that biting, dark wit I appreciate in people anywhere.  I love that I have a profession where I have literally burst into genuine laughter from something one of my students said in class.  I love even more that sometimes, when I’m driving home, I’ll think about that funny remark and laugh again, alone in my car, the passengers on the highway looking at me sideways.

So it is relatively shocking – almost unprecedented – for me to be given a student I can’t somehow reach by the end of the term.  Some respond to the passion I have for what I teach, and there’s something really wonderful about a moment that occurs at least three times a year, usually when I’m teaching something like how studios choose release dates, when a kid asks, “How do you knowthis stuff?” and I get to respond, “When you care about something, you read a lot about it – and you never stop wanting to learn more.”  And there’s this dawning of an understanding that flashes across the old-enough-to-vote-kid’s face, and I can see him thinking about what he wants to learn more about, and even if it’s basketball or the history of porn, it kind of rules that you’ve inspired someone to maybe pick up a book.

Other students I get to in different ways.  

Sense of humor is key.  

Not losing your temper is important, especially when you really have the urge to throttle someone.  

Standing at the door and greeting each kid by name before class makes you seem far more personable – and I’ve found, statistically, it’s just harder to heave a desk at a teacher who five minutes earlier asked you how your day was going as you walked into her room.

To show you take very little shit, calmly kicking a kid out of your classroom for sleeping once a semester can work wonders.  

Complimenting one of your student’s outfits when you really like it can be beneficial – and some of them wear really cute stuff, like the adorable eyelet shorts one of my girls this year wore.  I tell you, if I was seventeen or severely anorexic, I’d wear those shorts in a hunger-delayed heartbeat. 

To illustrate your own humanity, explain how the five inch heels you wear every day might one day cut off your circulation and cause you to pass out at some point and designate which kid in the front row has the job of catching and/or reviving you when you eventually keel over.  Emergency preparedness builds bonds.

See?  There are all kinds of ways to connect.

But these two kids; they were cut from another cloth, and while I know fashion, I’m not exactly sure what Satanic cloth would be.  (Wait!  Satan would totally wear a gingham-printed polyester.  Hell’s gotta be a place with loud prints and unbreathable fabric.)  

There was simply nothing redeeming to like about either.  Neither was bright, kind, engaged, polite, prepared, or capable of an expression other than that of nasty disgust.  One of them was in my 1st period class and one of them was in my 9th, so I essentially began and ended my day by being confounded by the highest level of non-verbal hatred two people could conjure up with their unfortunate features.  I could barely focus on the sweet kids that surrounded them, so stunned these two wretched people rendered me.

One day in 1st period, I created an in-class Foley Studio. I had seven stations, and each was color-coded.  The students were given cute little schedules to follow and, as they went from station to station, they were asked to crumple cellophane and chew cherry Lifesavers and smoosh cornstarch on top of a piece of leather and figure out what sound effect was being created.  Setting the lesson up took forever, and I was literally covered in cornstarch at the end of the day, but the excited looks on the faces of eighteen-year-olds as they listened intently to Alka-Seltzer fizz and pushed their ears unguardedly into the mouth of the Lifesaver-chewer made it all worth it.  At the end of the class, students helped me throw away the trash and many came over to tell me that they had fun.  Lucifer and Meffie?  They both looked like 1) I was torturing them by making them toss salt onto newspapers to mimic sounds of rain and 2) they were pondering how long it would take to suffocate me with cellophane.

I officially had enough.  These kids were not normal, and I wanted to know definitively what the fuck was wrong with them.

I went onto the computer program my district has that allows teachers to see if current students suffer from issues like A.D.D., A.D.H.D., autism.  I typed both names of these vile beings into the system, fully expecting to see each was a latent serial killer or that they had been prescribed some acronym that stood for “Devoid of All Human Emotion,” but no.  These kids were classified as “normal.”

One day I wandered into the hallway after my class with Meffie and her steely eyes and her refusal to smile or to laugh at a single word I said – and I’m fucking funny – and I ran into my friend Matt.  Matt teaches down the hallway from me.  Like me, he spends most of his free time in his classroom, which I’d argue is why both of us tend to like our jobs.  Matt can always be counted on for a friendly smile and for an unbelievable hug.  Seriously – if there were prizes awarded for hugging, nobody else should even bother to enter.

Matt is also, like me, a teacher of seniors, and he tends to like almost all of his students.  He saw me on that day, and my expression must have read as both pissed off and puzzled.

“What’s the matter, darling?” Matt asked.

“I have two students this year and I hate them as human beings.  And I know that's a bold statement.  They are both passing the class, they are decent students, but as people? They are truly awful,” I responded.

“You never hate kids,” said Matt.  “What are their names?”

I told him.  I uttered their names softly like I used to do at sleepover parties when I’d stare into a bathroom mirror and invoke Bloody Mary on the harshest of Dares.

“Oh!  Yeah – they’re horrible people,” my most legitimately Zen friend responded.  “It’s not you.  They are nasty as could be.”

I hugged him, right there in the hallway.  Sometimes it’s so helpful to realize you are not alone in wanting a few people thrown off of the already-overcrowded-with-assholes hemisphere.

But then came the day where I saw something terrifying.  I was in the hallway between classes, like teachers are supposed to be so we can tell kids to take their hats off or quickly call security if a fight breaks out, which luckily doesn’t happen all that frequently.  And as I leaned against a locker, surveying the peace of the halls, I saw it:  Lucifer and Meffie.  

They were holding hands.  

They stopped to kiss.  

He might have felt her up.

They were dating?  I clutched desperately at my heart.  I was certain that if these two ended up breeding, they would undoubtedly create the Antichrist.  I knew I would have to tell Matt this ghastly news, and that perhaps we should immediately make plans for buildingemergency shelter from the certain doom these two, now probably genitally-joined, could bring forth, but I knew for sure that I’d end up needing a separate shelter from Matt.  

He’s a vegetarian health nut. I want good shit in my bunker.  In a time of true crisis, I refuse to pretend that Pirate’s Booty is as good as Cool Ranch Doritos.

Lucifer and Meffie both graduated that June, and if either had a grade of 19 in my class, I might have passed them anyway just to get them out of my sight.  They passed legitimately though, and they left my room on the last day without ever having smiled.  What’s so sad is that I can’t remember the names of some of the students who have been lovely and brilliant, but I’ll probably go to the grave remembering the real names of those two.

It comes down to the fact that, in spite of some scary ones, I know I’m lucky.  I like what I do.  I expect to have a good day every day, and I’m usually not disappointed.  Even when a kid is, shall we say, less than “intellectually gifted,” there’s usually something redeeming to locate and latch on to so that you can get through having this person in your class for a semester or for a year.  

I had a student this year with what had to be a hideously low IQ – and I think there’s also a chance he legitimately suffered from undiagnosed narcolepsy.  But he looked like a young Tyson Beckford and he was excited when he asked a girl to the prom, and he remained remarkably lucid during the entire prom-proposal process.  

He was my lowest-achieving student this year.  His final grade for my course was a 65.  But the day after classes ended, he stopped by my room to say hello and to show me what he was wearing to the prom and to show me a picture of the dress his date was wearing.

I took a look at the silk burgundy gown and I smiled.

“This is beautiful.  She’ll look fantastic,” I said.

“She looks gorgeous in it,” the boy responded.  “She was going to wear a black dress, but I told her it made her look like she was going to a funeral.”

“You like this one?”

“A lot,” he said.

“Then here’s what you’re not going to do, okay?  Are you listening?”  I looked straight at him.  He was totally awake.

“I’m listening,” he laughed.

“You are not going to say any variation of ‘See, I told you this was a better dress than the black one,’” I instructed.

He laughed really hard then.

“I was going to say that!” he said.

“I know you were.  But why not just tell her that she looks great in the dress she is wearing instead of making it into an I-was-right comment?”

He nodded slowly.  He got it.

“I’ll tell you this,” I said to the boy who had barely passed my class.  “You might not remember anything I taught you about Film.  But I hope that I just taught you the way to pay somebody you care about a compliment.”

“Miss,” he said with a warm smile, “that’s advice I’ll remember.”

And he gave me a hug and walked towards my classroom door and waved once before walking away from me and into the real world.