Nicky and Armando

This is a Saint Clement school story , the gone-now Catholic school in Venice, CA , where I began my teaching career . Another one of those deeply – stored memories popped up as I was walking in my neighborhood .  Why do these memories emerge at any particular moment ?  Does a sound similar  to one I’d heard during the event trigger it , or a fragrance ?  You know :  sense memory .  What was it that old Ebenezer Scrooge suggested  ? Was it :   ” You may be an undigested bit of beef , a blot of mustard , a crumb of cheese , a fragment of underdone potato ……..”   Do ghosts  of the past arise from a slight  stomach cramp , a touch of indigestion ?  Whatever . Here it is .

I remember sitting behind the Principal’s desk talking to Nicky’s mom . Her other son , Armando , was standing behind her . The issue was Nicky’s lethargic attitude toward schoolwork . Nicky was a student in my fourth grade class . Maybe I could get his mother involved . Maybe she could help.

This woman sitting across the desk from me was not the Nicky’s mother whom I had been talking to all year about Nicky’s progress in my class , not the Nicky’s mom who showed up for school Open House days , and report card conferences , and school events . Not the same woman .one xx 16

I asked this new woman , of course , about my slight conundrum .  ” I’m Nicky’s mom .  ”    Well , then , who’s the other woman who said she’s Nicky’s mom ?  ” That’s my mother .”    This mom  was already irritated .  Body language said  :  how dare you even ask !  Was she glaring at me ?  Armando had his arms crossed across his chest , legs straight and feet spread apart . Dark shades covered his eyes and a bandanna folded just right was tied around his shaved head . His long flannel shirt was buttoned at the neck , open wide lower down .  No doubt that Armando was glaring . He was mommy’s backup . He was there for moral support , I guess , and to jump in if a fight erupted .  He could have been hired as an extra in a street gang movie with that look , only he wasn’t acting a part . Armando was shot and killed at a local gas station a year or so after that . The police called it : gang related .


I decided to approach a discussion about Nicky’s lack of academic achievement by emphasizing the fact that he never , ever , turns in homework . I know , I know —– homework ?  Shouldn’t we be talking about more serious issues ?  But , I was trying .

Just-out-of-prison-mother was assuring me that she always helped Nicky with his homework . Oh , yeah , she had just got out of prison . I didn’t know that at the time . Her body language said : how dare you say my boy  doesn’t do homework !  But , he’s never turned it in ,  I insisted .  ” Not true ,” she told me . ”  If I don’t have a chance to help Nicky that day with  his homework  , then Armando helps him . ”    I looked up at Armando . I wondered if that tightly buttoned shirt pinched his neck . Armando was about sixteen . He had been kicked out of Saint Clement , I think , three or four years before that . To paraphrase a line from Cat On a Hot Tin Roof : I could smell the mendacity in that room .


I thought  :  Yeah right !  Armando is helping Nicky with his fractions . How is Armando with decimals ?  I told her again that , actually , Nicky has never turned in any homework assignment —- cards on the table .  I emphasized again that he was a very cooperative kid , her Nicky , very helpful , but that we needed to find a way to motivate him to study .

She got mad about the homework thing . She insisted that he was turning in homework . ” Well , I know all about you ! ” she said . ” I’ve heard what you do ! I’ve heard what goes on here . I know how you pull the kids around by the hair ……………”   It kinda went downhill from there .  Hair pulling wasn’t really one of my teaching methods . I forget now any other accusations .  She spit them out with rage .  I was , what , twenty-three , twenty-four ?  This was  new teaching territory for me .

I stood up calmly ;  had tried my best . ” This conference is over ” ,  I said , ” Thank you for coming ” ,  and I pointed to the office door . I had patience in those days . Armando stood firm , but followed his mother out when she decided to leave , she cursing as she went .

” Well , how’d it go ? ” the principal asked me later . Peachy . Just peachy .


Filed under teaching

4 responses to “Nicky and Armando

  1. When I read stories like this and listen to my brother (retired middle school teacher) I realize that it’s good I didn’t go into teaching. It’s hard to tell where the problem is here, I don’t think it’s the teacher or the school, but its a sad story.

    • Teaching is a tough job . I loved teaching but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone .Sad commentary , eh ? I tried hard to persuade a nephew not to go into teaching . He went into computers instead .

      • Ironically, you might not have saved him from teaching. Working with computers, one is constantly exposed to the people who need to use computers but don’t know and sometimes don’t want to know how they work. it’s not as bad as standing in front of 30 7th graders (I can’t image what is) and most end users aren’t accompanied by their mother and thuggy older brother but still…

      • Right you are , now that I think of it .

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