Jason Meister was a fat kid. But he had a way about him–an air of authority at a public high school with an in-house probation officer and a student-body mean-GPA flat-lining in the low D range.
Nobody messed with Jason–not even the seniors. He was in my sophomore English class–the one that met during third block–lunch block.
It was a class jam-packed with rowdy, struggling readers–plus, they left for lunch halfway through the period and returned either hopped up on sugar or ready for a siesta.
It was a challenge to teach them, but Jason was my secret weapon. Together, we could bluff a table of dogs into playing poker or a classroom of restless low-achievers into learning.
That’s the thing about teaching nobody seems to realize. We really are powerless. The administration will not back teachers except in rare cases (like if the teacher is actually assaulted by a student and threatens a lawsuit against the school district.)
But to be fair, the school won’t back teachers because the larger school district will not back local school administrators. Shit always does roll downhill.
And the parents, for the most part, will either defend their children and make your life hell; or they want no part of anything; or they talk a good game, but nothing changes.
That being said, I will always remember how Jason was extremely instrumental in persuading the percussion section of the band class to find another place to practice.
One day, we were trying to read silently when the drummers came outside and proceeded to practice their repertoire outside of my classroom window.
I looked up and Jason caught my eye. “Don’t worry, Ms. A. I’ll take care of this.” And with that, Jason got up and walked out of the room.
Of course by now, the rest of the class is doing everything but reading silently, and so we all watched Jason walk outside and deliver a persuasive argument that had the percussion players hightailing back into the building.
“Well, what did they say?” I asked when Jason returned.
“Mr. Braungarde doesn’t like to listen to them play. He told them to go outside. I told them to go back in. Don’t worry–they won’t be back.”
And he was right. Silent reading went on as scheduled, and we never saw the drummers again.
Another day, my principal came in to observe. Some of the kids had no idea who he was, but Jason knew. Jason was sitting at a student desk straight across from the student desk where the principal had settled. At some point during my lesson, the principal later reported, Jason leaned over to him and said, “Are you here to watch our teacher?”
The principal said, “Maybe I’m here to watch you.”
Jason wasn’t fooled. He said, “Because she’s a really good teacher.”
The principal concurred.
But my absolute favorite Jason Meister story involved something I wasn’t even present to witness. I had called out sick one day, and no one was assigned to cover my lunch block class. No one showed up to teach or even supervise them the entire period.
When I came back the next day, I saw a note scribbled in red marker on a transparency left on the overhead projector. It said,
Dear Ms. A,
Where the hell were you? I had to keep these bitches quiet.
Apparently, there had been a fire alarm pulled and Jason ensured all the students made it outside, lined up so as to not attract administrative attention, returned to the classroom where he kept the door shut and the students quiet until lunch. At the sound of the lunch bell, they went to lunch. When the returned, Jason shut the door and kept order.
Wow. Just wow. Later, Jason explained that he and all the other students were afraid I would get in trouble if the office found out there was no teacher in the room. They hadn’t realized I wasn’t responsible for getting a substitute–the office had screwed up.
It’s good to be loved.
I ran into Jason a few years after he graduated. He had just gotten married and had a baby boy on the way. He made a living as a dump truck driver. And he still had a certain swagger, too.
I was proud of the man he had become.
A year later, Jason died from a drug overdose.
I cried for the kid I once knew and the man Jason’s baby boy would never remember.