17 July 2010

5th Period Adventures - Part 3: John

Administrators don’t teach fifth period. In fact many administrators have never even been in a classroom. So when John returned from our alternative campus the counselors thought it would be a good idea to add him to my fifth period family. John was a rather large student. He had been in my class the year before, failed miserably and got kicked out of school for selling drugs. He came back with a chip on his shoulder and an axe to grind. He arrived in my classroom 15 minutes late. He carried no materials with him, and said nothing to anyone. He merely glared around the room and clenched his fists. I assigned John the only empty seat in my classroom, which happened to be right next to Frank, and braced myself for a new onslaught of disruptive behavior. John stomped his way over to his desk, slammed himself into the seat and stared at the floor.

I decided to do my best to help John succeed in my class and handed him some paper and a pencil that he could use for the day, and asked him to bring his own the next day. He lifted his gaze only slightly and acknowledged my request with a grunt. A few minutes later stood up, pushed his papers on the floor, walked out of my room, and slammed the door. Having taught John before, I was discouraged but not surprised by this performance. His bewildered classmates watched me pick up his papers and continue teaching without comment. A few minutes later John returned to my classroom, and discovered, much to his dismay, that I keep my classroom door locked. When he slammed the door he locked himself out. I took much pleasure in this little victory and continued teaching.

I have a very simple policy that John was already familiar with. You can walk out of my classroom any time you want. I won't stop you, I won't get in your way, and I won't argue with you about it. But once you leave, you can't come back without a note from your principal. And if you don't make it back with a note from the principal by the end of class, you are marked absent. With my door locked, John knew that he needed to go tell the principal that he walked out of class, but decided to see if he could avoid that meeting, as it surely would end in detention. He knocked on my door. I went outside and asked him if he had the required note. When he told me he did not, I went back into class leaving him in the hallway to contemplate his options.

John knocked on my door again, I ignored him. He pounded on the window, I ignored him. He jiggled my doorknob, I ignored him. One of my students helpfully pointed out that John wanted to come back into class. Tenth graders are so observant. I told them that John wanted to disrupt class and asked them to ignore him. They performed remarkably well. I was so proud of all of them. John continued his pounding and got very frustrated when he could see through the window that no one cared. He started shouting through the door. When that didn’t work he pulled out his cell phone, which is not allowed in school, turned on the alarm, and pushed it under my door. It found it very difficult not to laugh as I picked his phone up off the ground, turned it off, and deposited it in my desk drawer to be turned into the office at the end of the day. John cried out loudly in dismay and defeat just as an Assistant Principal rounded the corner. He was assigned detention.

09 July 2010

5th Period Adventures - Part 2: Frank

I was a little disappointed that Daniel dropped out of school, but not at all upset that I stopped receiving death threats. I thought I had slain the dragon, and settled down to my happily ever after. However, I soon discovered that I had only battled the enchantment protecting the dragon’s lair, and the true contest was yet to come. The next attack came from a different angle. One of the counselors stopped by my room during my conference period to let me know that she had just changed a schedule and put Frank in my class. For a moment I was tricked by this siren’s song and allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security. I thought of how kind and considerate it was for her to go out of her way to tell me about a schedule change, and I looked forward to meeting this new pupil. I knew I was headed for trouble when I looked up his previous schedule to find out whom to get his grades from and discovered that Frank had already been through three other History teachers, and it was only October. However I decided that I had the upper hand in the impending contest due to the fact that I had a 24 hour head start. I quickly assigned Frank a spot in the seating chart and then began searching for information that I could wield in my favor. I went to Frank's most recent History teacher. When I mentioned his name the teacher first cringed, then shuddered, then said “good luck” and promptly walked out of the room. With that resounding vote of confidence I made my way back to my room and prepared for the worst.

The following day I returned from the cafeteria a few minutes early, anxious to prepare for my new disruptive student. I was momentarily caught off guard when I discovered that he had beaten me and was waiting for me outside my door. I quickly put on my serious I’m-in-charge-of-this-classroom face and unlocked my door. Frank had been through enough schedule changes by this point in the year to know that his ticket into my classroom was a copy of the new schedule. With a flourish in his wrist he handed me the required documentation, and then with all the femininity of a damsel in distress sighed rather significantly, leaned on my door frame, tilted his head to one side, batted his eyelashes and asked, “Miss, do I look pretty today?” In all of my mental preparations it had never occurred to me that my new antagonist would be a boy who wished he was a girl.

I tried not to focus on the exorbitant amount of foundation, eye shadow, and lip gloss that was caked on his face and told him where his assigned seat was. He tossed his head and swung his hips all the way to his desk. When class started Frank started rummaging through his purse. I watched closely hoping that he would take out some paper on which to complete the warm up assignment. My optimism shattered when instead his hand emerged clutching a rather large make up bag. He pulled out a compact and carefully applied some rather dark eye liner, gazed at his reflection for a few moments and then decided he needed some more lip gloss. He settled on some clear lip gloss with glitter in it and went to work. Even my most dedicated and disciplined students had a hard time focusing on the task at hand, and all eyes were on Frank.

Frank had an interesting ritual. Maybe he was still determining what makeup was best for his coloring. He would spend several minutes applying makeup, then admire his handiwork in the mirror for a while, then pull out a washcloth to wipe off all of the makeup and start over. He was challenging to the class in a number of ways: 1) he didn’t care about History or listen to a single thing that I said. This made him about average for fifth period. 2) Instead of using the normal methods of ignoring me such as falling asleep, passing notes, or texting, Frank's makeup ritual was quite distracting to everyone in the room. 3) He loved to play the race card. Anytime I asked him to do anything he responded with “You just hate me because I’m black.” 4) He made my other students uncomfortable. All sorts of behavior problems that had never existed before began to surface when Frank entered my classroom. This was a difficult predicament. He would say the oddest things. Once he asked me if I liked his new lip gloss. Once he told me he liked my eye shadow and wanted to know where I bought it. Once he asked the girl sitting behind him if she would pluck his eyebrows for him. Fortunately for me, Frank liked to stand up before interrupting class, so my standard response to all of his antics quickly became “Frank, please sit down.” “Miss, you just hate me because I’m black.” “Frank, I don’t hate you. Please sit down.”

After about two weeks of this the tension in my classroom started to settle down. The other kids realized that Frank wasn’t going anywhere, and found some sort of comfort in the daily ritual of me assuring Frank that I didn’t hate him and asking him to sit down. Frank realized that I wasn’t going to write him up, so he was stuck in my class for the foreseeable future. He even occasionally took a break from his makeup routine to take some notes.

02 July 2010

5th Period Adveuntures - Part 1: Daniel

Fifth period is at a rather difficult time of day. Much of the world avoids post lunch problems through use of the siesta. However, Americans boldly cling to the bizarre idea that humans are actually supposed to be awake during the mid-afternoon hours and try to conduct business as normal. Teenagers, who already have a very limited connection to reality, are especially hard hit by what I refer to as afternoon insanity. Knights, warriors, mythical gods, and other literary heroes have nothing over a fifth period public school teacher.

My first Nemesis arrived in fifth period on the first day of school to announce that he had just returned from prison, celebrated his nineteenth birthday, and was now ready to begin his high school career. He got off to an excellent start by walking out of class and slamming the door. Getting Daniel to sit in a seat was a Herculean task (except that Hercules would not have been able to accomplish it.) Daniel’s favorite response to any request was “Miss, I’m fixin’ to go guerilla on you.” I decided to overlook the obvious Texan nature of the comment and concentrate on keeping him from interrupting the other students in the classroom.

Having never attended high school before, Daniel did not immediately make the connection between attending school and passing school. He missed several weeks before he decided that coming to class might be worth his time. Unfortunately he decided it was only worth his time because he could sell drugs in the restrooms, and his only excuse to come to campus and use the restrooms was to attend an occasional class.

After Daniel discovered that blatant disregard for all school rules was not getting him the amount of attention he desired, he decided to try something slightly more abrasive He stood up during class and announced that he was going to bring a gun and school to shoot everyone. Then, just to make sure I knew of the special place that I had in his heart, he promised me that he would come and find me first. While flattered to be the first one he thought of, I decided that I would prefer to make it through the year without gunshot wounds. I asked him to sit down and finish taking his test. During our weekly meeting, I mentioned the exchange to my Assistant Principal who insisted that in any school shooting he would certainly be the first target. I held my ground and maintained my position as first in line.

A few days later Daniel was quite disappointed by the apathetic response he received and decided to try again with a little more fervor. This time, in addition to promising to find me first in his assault of the school, he stood up and acted out some target practice. By the third time Daniel promised to bring a gun to school the Assistant Principle lost patience and did the most logical thing: called a meeting. The attendees at this meeting included myself, Daniel, the AP, and our police officer. Daniel was informed that he would not be allowed back on campus until his parents came and met with an administrator (because, of course, the solution is another meeting). Daniel pursued the most obvious course of action and withdrew from school.