Sunday, November 2, 2008

sending a message

It started when they spit on the door to my classroom, leaving saliva dripping down the small window, streaking the glass. I had kicked them out of my room, where they were loitering, avoiding the in-school suspension room which they were supposed to have been in. This was their retaliation, and it was both disrespectful and embarrassing, as it always is when those boys (RC, JJ, and JV) disrespected me in front of other students. At the time my classroom was full of my favorite students, who come and eat lunch in my room, and at this moment were frantically attempting to complete all of their past-due homework in time to get credit for it before the close of the grading period.

The next day it continued. My bulletin board was pulled down in the hall, and someone’s saliva was dripping down the plastic covering that had protected all of the work that had been hung. Saliva. Gross. It was like their tag – marking their territory, as dogs would, only with spit instead of urine. I wrote up both incidents, as I had been told to do.

Later, they came into the room while I was teaching and I shooed them away. They turned off the lights on their way out the door and slammed it behind them. In the afternoon, 2 of them dragged another boy, one of the few who was in special ed due to low cognitive ability, down the hall. He recalled being chased and tackled, and then dragged down the hall before being doused with water. He came to class and sat, shivering in the front row while we read about Columbus. I wrote that up too.

The last write up that I placed in the stack of incident reports that I handed in at the end of the day, told of the three of them entering my room in the transition time between periods, when I was alone in the room. They locked the door behind them, one boy pushing in the lock, and another flicking out the lights. They approached me and one said ‘Are you afraid Miss?’ I walked over to the light switch to turn on the lights, and RC pushed my hand away. I pulled the door open and ordered them out of the room.

This was not an atypical day. This was hardly an atypical series of events. These boys have spent the past 13 years getting away with things. They have spent the entire year prior to this moment receiving barely a slap on the wrist for their antics – which are likely done mostly for attention and some feeling of power, but which are nonetheless inappropriate and harmful. Nothing was out of the ordinary, except that this time action was taken. The principal put in for a superintendent’s suspension on the basis of my final incident report.

Now I have to testify to the events I wrote about at a hearing to decide the length of the suspension. The school is asking for a 90 days suspension. The boys all deny being there. I had to go in for a meeting with one of the boys and his mother, who said to me ‘this is his future’ and asked if I could swear with absolute certainty that he was one of the 3 boys who was in the darkened room. Immediately I doubted myself. And again I doubted myself when another boy tried to bring forward an alibi which fell quickly to pieces. I am obsessing over the minute details of what happened, tearing myself and my own story to shreds, when of course I know that I have no vendetta against these boys. I wouldn’t write a report on an event that didn’t occur, or mis-identify these boys, who pop into my room repeatedly every day.

My problem is this: if I truly believe that the only way that kids know what is right and wrong is if they are taught, and I don’t think that they have been taught that this year, how do I feel about this as the way that they learn. The school says that they want to send the kids a message – that they have to learn about what is inappropriate behavior. And I am feeling that it is a message that is too loud. All year, due to the lack of disciplinary structure in the school, they have been sent the message that there are no consequences. And suddenly the guillotine drops – and they didn’t really get any warning that it was hanging above them. 90 day suspensions are a serious message. I go back and forth on what these boys deserve – and then I wonder if this is really about me not wanting to have to take responsibility for it. There are incident reports that have been written by every teacher all year on them – and this is the one that they act on? I do know that they need a message to be sent. Is it really that I don’t think that the message is right – or is it just that I don’t want the message to be coming from me?

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