These past five months, above all, have been a lesson in teen slang. I never thought I would be in my twenties and completely confounded by my students, but it’s officially happened.
I remember being thirteen and a little shit and signing out for the PEN15 club on the blackboard, thinking my substitute teacher would have no idea what I was saying, thinking I was sooooo clever. I realize now, more than a decade later, when my students call me “the plug,” that karma is a very real thing.
A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation that went something along these lines:
Student A: (unintelligible muttering) BBJ! Miss…yeah definitely bro hahaha
Student B: She a total BBJ!
When the surrounding students collapsed into fits of giggles in the corner, side-eyeing me, trying to be subtle, I obviously needed to find out what BBJ was. PSA: Urbandictionary-ing, while useful, is not a foolproof method for this reason.
Me: What’s BBJ, and why is that me?
Me: Come on. Tell me.
Me: I’ll give you candy if you tell me.
One kid: Oooh OK, what kind of candy?
Everyone else: SHUT UP, Brandon! No!
Since it was the end of the day, and rightbefore a weekend, I had neither the will nor the energy to super sleuth the BBJ situation, and I’m pretty sure I went home, ate bread, passed out on the couch, and dreamed sweet, sweet, student-less dreams.
One week later, anonymous student makes “BBJ Lover” his/her username in a classroom game. Everyone laughs and looks at me. Someone else makes “DTG” his username, and screams, “Deep Throat Gang,” from the back of the room. I think to myself, “How could he ever say that to a teacher?!” and then I remember PEN15.
I google both BBJ and DTG, against my better judgment. The results are profane and predictable. I eat more bread and pray for the future of America.
Two weeks pass, and it all blows over. I finally learn what “finna” and “boe” mean, and despite my new knowledge, I do not feel enlightened.
Today, Student A comes to my room at the end of the day, looking for his phone. He asks me if I ever learned what BBJ means. I say no. He laughs at me. I erase the board, feeling old, lame, like a real damn adult.
Student C takes pity on me and tells me that BBJ means “Big Booty Judy,” and it’s so anticlimactic that I’m almost disappointed.
Then I remember they’ve all been calling ME “Big Booty Judy,” and it makes me love and hate everything all at once, and for the first time, I truly understand why half my teachers were eccentric and had sixteen cats and tattooed eyeliner and wore capes.
Thank God for the weekend, people. Finna be lit.
When I told my mother I’d made the decision to accept a job teaching English/Language Arts to eighth graders in rural South Carolina, her grief rolled in with the typical five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, eventually, acceptance. Every conversation, no matter how mundane, was saturated with emotion.
“Will we go to your new house for Thanksgiving this year?” she’d whisper, long after I signed my South Carolina contract, “Once you start teaching in New Jersey or Maryland?”
Then it was the family wedding in July, where she hit the amaretto sours and howled at me in the elevator about how my loved ones would die before I could hop on a plane and see them in a hospital.
When anger didn’t elicit the desired response, that’s when the bargaining kicked in. “If only your sister never sent you that job posting, you wouldn’t be leaving me. I’ll do anything if you stay up North.”
The tears followed shortly after, in bursts, in torrents, soaking through my hair, dripping down my collar bones. Skype conversations ended quickly when her voice crackled and face crumpled.
I think she finally accepted my absence around Halloween. I hosted some new friends at my apartment, we watched some scary movie that was filmed a few miles away in our town, and I made some grape jelly cocktail sausages according to my mom’s recipe. I remember her sounding happy that I made some friends, and telling me that I was lucky to have such nice plans for the night.
After that point, phone conversations and FaceTimes became less heavy, less serious. She laughed with me about the ridiculous things my students say, asked to see videos of my new kitten running around in the apartment, and warned me that if I didn’t stop gorging myself on Southern soul food buffets I would die of a premature heart attack at thirty-five. (I have finally come to terms with that last part.)
I’ve had adventure in my bones since childhood, but college and graduate school kept me tethered to Pennsylvania for seven years after my high school graduation. Stupidly, I never studied abroad, never took opportunities through school to travel, and I found myself twenty-five, landlocked, and deeply unhappy. I’d say, “Oh, I’m going to move out to Colorado, or Oregon, or I’ll explore the South for a few years, or maybe even the Midwest,” but I don’t think anyone took me seriously. Nobody really expected me to pick up and move hundreds of miles from home. When I got a phone interview callback for this job in South Carolina less than twenty-four hours after applying, all at once I was faced with the chance to leave, the chance to experience new people, new landscapes, new culture. Within a month, I visited, signed a contract, and started scouting out apartments.
My mother always told me that the most important thing at the end of every day was whether or not I could look in the mirror and say, “I’m happy with myself for the choices I’ve made today.” After six months, have I ever questioned why I’m here? Hellllll yes. Have I ever wished my job was easier, and wondered what it would be like to not be teaching in a high-poverty school with rampant behavioral issues? Probably on the daily. But I came here because I knew, somewhere within me, that I needed to be teaching these students while I was young, while I had energy, before I burned out. Sure, I could have applied for a higher-paying job in the suburbs of New Jersey, outside of Manhattan, but would I be making as much of a difference? As Albus Dumbledore once said, “We must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
I miss my family every day. But when I pass by the mirror hanging in my bedroom, I feel satisfied. Even though my mom still cries sometimes, and even when I wish I could buy booze on Sundays and that everything wasn’t so flat and that I could see a damn snowflake every once in awhile, I know I’m in the right place for now.