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.

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