The school spins out of control to the point where I am desensitized to it. There are so many moments in every day which shouldn’t happen – couldn’t possibly really be happening – that I find myself unable to distinguish one from another.
There was the asbestos leak, in which face masks were distributed to the teachers, but not to the students. It’s a carefully controlled chaos that simmers just below the boiling point – but at time it sloshes over.
“Miss – I think that there’s something wrong in the air downstairs.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because miss! The teachers be wearing face masks down there.”
I wonder who it was who had the brilliant idea to selectively protect people in the school from harm. Apparently someone who underestimated the students ability to draw a connection between a face mask and air quality. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince the kids that wearing a face mask was more a fashion statement than a protective device. We spent the afternoon outside, trying to prevent fights from breaking out in the ‘courtyard’, a fenced in granite area which should be a concrete but instead serves as an arena for the kids to release energy at lunch time.
Is a system still a system if it’s fully ineffective? Information regarding most of the ‘systems’ travel to me via word of mouth.
“Hey Miss Klein – don’t forget that you have to have billboards completed at the end of today.” All in the interest of supporting the appearance of learning, even when there is not any actual learning taking place. Two days later I am corrected on the policy that was never communicated to me.
“Miss Klein – your bulletin board doesn’t have the standards posted for ELA AND Social Studies – and did you ever get a copy of the rating rubric?” Um…no. Of course I didn’t. Big smile and genuine thank you to my helpful messenger, and I tack yet another thing onto my to do list.
With discipline, the ‘system’ remains a house of mirrors that I can’t navigate. I suppose I’m supposed to call the assistant principal when there is an incident in my class – but at this point my students beg me to go to him, so I imagine a fantasyland of gumdrops and candy canes in his office, and refuse to send them out of them room when they misbehave. Often, when I assure them that their bad behavior will not land them in the office, they resign themselves to good behavior. From where I’m standing, there are no concrete consequences that the students face within the school. One child punches another in the face 4 times, leaving him in tears, and when the dean and security are called, no one comes. Ultimately, the violent one takes the initiative to leave the classroom, likely fearing a confrontation with the dean, while the other boy sits at his desk, tears soaking his worksheet for the remainder of the class. No one comes to investigate, and the next day, things continue as though nothing had occurred.
Eighth period and one boy comes to me and asks that I call the office.
“Because 2 of the boys god in a fight – they decked him and then started kicking him, and now there’s blood everywhere so we need to clean up.”
“WHAT?! They did what?!” These are two of my favorite students who apparently fought.
“Yes – and then I accidentally hit someone and now everyone is mad at me – so can you just call the office?!” In the background, my class is still in their seats, being held after school until they can figure out a way to act like the mature middle school students that I am confident must exist somewhere inside all of them. Or at least most/some of them. Currently 3 of them are dancing in the front of the room, while 3 others are playing catch in a corner and someone is knocking over their desk.
“Well I’m a little busy right now – what do you want me to do about it – have the teacher call!”
Undoubtedly, no one ever gets called. The following day I ask the boys about it, and they say that they didn’t get in trouble, and that no one ever came.
One boy got caught tagging (grafitti) the school, and the principal said that he would buy him a sketch book if he had a week of good behavior. I fill in his behavior log every day, marking ‘needs improvement’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ in the columns for his classwork and behavior – and at the end of the week he proudly shows me his new sketchbook.
One student tells me that last year 2 boys tried to burn down the school. They got as far as lighting the gym on fire, where the walls are still charred from their efforts.
“Who was it? What happened to them?” I ask. She tells me their names, and I look up, startled, for they are both students who I currently teach. She shrugs, as this doesn’t seem as entirely absurd to her as it does to me.
Recently I feel that things are escalating, and I’m having trouble wrapping my head around all of it. I’m at a loss for how to discipline those students whose parents are unresponsive, who doesn’t flinch when I tell them they are failing, and who beg me to go spend some time in the office. I feel like a horrible teacher, tempted to just throw them out of my class rather than take the time to figure them out.