This past Wednesday — As I greeted my first students of the day — a 9th grade Algebra class at YES Prep — I just knew it was going to be a chill kind of day. It’s the end of the school year. I was with 9th grade students, not t̷a̷s̷m̷a̷n̷i̷a̷n̷ ̷d̷e̷v̷i̷l̷s, 6th graders. It was an Algebra class, which means the kids should already know how to do the assignment (or at least I hoped). I had the typical demographic of students that I normally had while guest teaching in middle and high schools — approximately 24 Latino(a) students and one African American student.
Or so I thought. That is, until I walked over to the seemingly only African American-looking girl in a group as she and her friends were ̷t̷a̷l̷k̷i̷n̷g̷ ̷ working with one another. I heard her say something like this.
* En realidad yo dudo tanto de ti, por más que intento no me dejo llevar Pruebo tu amor y me siento fatal, pero yo te quiero bien o mal. Ja ja ja ja!
- NOTE: These are actually famous words for a Spanish song. I know what this says. I don’t remember what she said. Even if I did remember, I wouldn’t know what she said.
She spoke so eloquently and fast. I was shocked. How do I make asking about her ethnic background NOT awkward? I thought to myself.
“Hello, Ladies. I would advise you to work on your Algebra packet. It’s for a grade,” I stated, meaning business. Then I asked the black girl in the group, “Where are you from or where are your parents from?”
“I’m from Honduras. Miss…she’s not going to grade this. We’ve already took all of our tests!” She exclaims.
I guess the lone black girl in the class is the outspoken leader of her group.
“You girls need to do your work,” I then noticed a piece of paper with Spanish written on it that wasn’t Algebra, “What’s this?”
“Hahaha!!! Miss, it’s a love poem! I wrote it for someone.”
I took it from her desk. “Hmm…”
“You can’t read it...hahahaha. It’s in Spanish.”
I translate the first sentence in English because of my familiarity with the words “corazon”, “decir”, “tu” and “amor”. Context clues are great and making inferences is helpful to understand any language if one has studied it at some point. Those 5 years in high school and college amounted to something.
The too-cool-for-school girls were impressed. So, I made a deal.
“How about this. I’ll try to read this whole poem while YOU all get to work on your Algebra packet.”
“Miss, don’t be using Google Translate. Hahaha!!!” one of the girls said.
Me — straight face.
“Miss, you didn’t get the joke.”
“Ohhh…it was a joke?” — because I’m a cold-hearted.
I didn’t get to finish reading the poem. I was busy monitoring the students to make sure they all finished their packets. After students finished, I allowed them to play Jenga, stack-cups-to-the-ceiling-in-a-pyramid-until-they-make-an-annoying-loud-ass-sound, and Connect Four.
Unbeknownst to you, I am the Connect Four Champ. I took this crown and glory by just simply being me, kicking ass and taking names for years. Connect Four is the only strategy game I’ll play for hours (I’m more a trivia gal) and it’s the only game I’d play with kids.
Long story short, no one can beat me.
Some of the students decided to battle me after my declaration of being the GOAT. I went against three boys and came out victorious in every single round. They eventually got tired of me. The boys challenged their classmates to go against me. Meanwhile, little Miss Honduras chose to play the cups game with the other kids who were actually finished with their work. After she called me out on being the champion, I chose to call her out on being one of the only people in class that was not finished with her work. Respectfully, of course.
“Miss Sonia. I know you have not finished your packet!
“Miss, the teacher is not going to grade it. We don’t have to — I can beat you in Connect Four. Let’s play Connect Four!”
“Nope. Not until you finish your packet.”
“I would love to beat you in Connect Four once you finish your packet.”
She then decided turn in half-hearted work — which I never accept — and give it to me. So, she worked on it again. No excuses. And she worked on finishing the packet for about 15 class minutes until it met my expectations.
“Can we play now?”
“Sure. Losers go first.” Because, like I said I never lose.
She went first. I watched her place checker by checker strategically in places where she could possibly win.
I counteracted every move she made. We were filling up the deck.
However, I was missing a step and I knew it. She had a skill that I had not mastered in my Connect Four reign; she was setting up at least three possible ways to win from the start.
It didn’t matter where I laid my checkers, she was adding value to her’s. Eventually, I would see a way to block her and she would say, “I win. Boom! I got it right here,” Miss Honduras said as she lightly grazed four checkers in a diagonal. “And I would’ve beat you here and here. Haha!”
“Let’s play again,” I said with a sullen, yet determined spirit. I do not allow myself to get beaten in Connect Four by 17 year olds. Nope. The devil is a liar.
Yet, she kept on conquering. Even while we chatted. Through the “I’m not going to college!” dialogue, and through the “I’m going to the army!” and through her “I love to fight!” statement and through her struggles as a older girl in the 9th grade who had moved to Honduras for a better opportunity with her family.
She beat me in Connect Four four times. I hope that through our brief conversation about the importance of working hard for the things that we want and seeking our true dreams, she sees her true, innate tenacity. A tenacity that says, “I can beat a teacher in her own game.”
A tenacity that says “no matter what, I know who I am and what I am capable of. I can do anything I put my mine to.”
She just has to realize it.