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  • Ashley Mezzano

Hidden In the Classroom

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

By Ashley Mezzano

*Names were changed to protect student and teacher privacy.*


Chey keeps a diary hidden in the classroom. When she’s not tussling with friends in the hallways or wailing her favorite expletives in class, I imagine she is writing. She rarely completes her work on time, but I’m proud of her. Chey comes into my room during lunch whenever those on lunch duty get tired of her. She’s a smart kid, a kind kid, the sort of kid that you wanted to have around when you were in middle school. She’d do anything to make sure that her friends were okay. Once she spent the entire class period on the floor so she could better comfort someone cramping. Chey would hug them tightly and whisper jokes when she didn’t think I was looking. Today, Chey is refusing to find her seat. She has sauntered over to the preppy table, the one with the Instagram addicts and avid TikTokers, and she is asking them to repeat whatever it is they said, snickering, to each other. Camilla asks why Chey is obsessed with her. By the time I come over, two other students are holding Chey back. “They’re not worth it,” they tell her. “You know you’re the one who’s going to get in trouble again.” Chey is thirteen, but she sighs like she’s in college and there’s another term paper due. It's the seventh period of the day and she’s tired. My class is the one where she is the most hungry and most irritable, and with one final huff, she sits in her assigned seat and mopes. Glancing at her paper, I don’t expect any work to be finished this afternoon. She’s got her arms crossed and her worksheet doesn’t even have her name scrawled on it. I let her keep the paper. Maybe when she’s less angry, she’ll jot something down. I loop around her desk a few times to check on her, then notice that she’s holding her lab book gingerly with a pencil in her hand. Whatever she’s thinking about, I figure it must be important. For the rest of the class, I focus on the other students. I sigh when I see Chey’s worksheet untouched at the end of the day. Maybe I should have pushed her more. I wonder briefly if she cares about my class at all before heading home.


The next morning, Chey runs into my first period class and shouts “Sup bitches?” twice to my eighth graders before rummaging for a morning breakfast from my cooler. Afterwards, she darts across the hall to Mathematics. Every teacher and student in C-Hall can hear the fuss she creates, with the math teacher desperately trying to calm Chey down as the classroom matches her chaotic demeanor. The whole mathematics class is clamoring for breakfast, and because school meals must be taken from their homeroom period, the rest of the class thinks the math teacher has chosen a favorite. Thanks to poor management of resources in a Title 1 environment, there’s limited breakfasts offered, and not everyone has gotten a meal even with Chey’s detour that morning. The math teacher spends fifteen minutes calming down his students before moving onto the lesson. I take a deep breath of relief. My first period is full of sleepy teenagers, and I’m grateful they’re too tired for food in the morning. I quietly report to the cafeteria workers that some of my napping students requested breakfast to account for the food Chey snuck off with. I make a mental note to reach out to the teachers in my hallway if extra breakfasts are ever needed in the future. Chey had the right idea, even if she should’ve asked first. We have enough to share in my classroom.


***

“You know, she cusses in every class,” Chloe, a student in my first period class, says casually. “Why do you keep letting her come in?” “I’ve had her for two years now,” I tell her. “She’s my student, and this space is hers too.” “The dean might as well be her teacher nowadays,” Chloe shakes her head. “She lives in ISSP. I hear she’s even there during lunch!”


Chloe doesn’t need to know if there’s truth to the rumors, but I do notice that Chey left her lab notebook here, which means she will likely be back for it in the next period or so. I’ve noticed she’s started to write notes to herself in the margins. It’s a lab notebook, but it’s also a diary. She writes about the people she crushes on, the homework she’s overwhelmed by, the feelings she’s dealt with that day. It’s private, personal, and rarely leaves her side. I’ll see her again when she realizes it is gone. Sure enough, while I’m patrolling the school during my break, the dean is talking to Chey outside of the cafeteria. He’s shaking his head at her when Chey notices me eavesdropping. “See? She’s even looking for me. I’m going to eat with Mrs. Harper!” The dean looks at me with a dubious sort of glance and I nod. He tells me that everyone, including her classmates, are sick of her boisterous behaviors. Chey’s shoulders are pulled tightly, the same way mine get when I’m anxious. On the way to the classroom, I ask her if she wants any food or if she has eaten. She says “no” to both. By the time we arrive, she’s holding a granola bar, a lollipop, and she’s sobbing. This isn’t the first time she’s been scolded by the dean, but this was the first time she’s realized everyone seems to agree with him. She can feel the disdain from pursed lips and tapping feet. She knows that the teachers don’t like her because she’s always too loud. The students hate how much energy the teachers spend calming her down. The dean knows her full name by heart, and her mother has stopped answering calls from the school. She says the same words to me repeatedly, “I’m sorry I’m a bad kid. I’m sorry.” She doesn’t elaborate. I don’t ask her to. I hold her tightly and reassure her she’s loved. “You are always welcome here in my classroom,” I say to her. “I care about you before your homework, before your grades, and especially before your referrals. I believe in you. You make my class so much more powerful and bright.”


I repeat myself until she hugs me back.




 

In her youth, Ashley Mezzano would scrawl poems in her notebook and secretly wish her teacher would read them. As a teacher, she is enraptured by the way students express themselves when they are most in need of love. Mezzano hopes that her debut nonfiction piece highlights the hearts that still remain in public education. She has previously been published with Beyond the Veil Literary Press and North Florida Poetry Hub. Follow her on Twitter @ashley_mezzano and Instagram @waytogomezzano.



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