31 August 2010

5th Period Adventures - Ice Cream

Evidently being assaulted by a student is an excellent way to get whatever you want from the administration for the rest of the school year (and a bigger classroom with windows for the next year.) The day after John dumped his lemonade on me a rather large accident shut down the freeway, and I was a few minutes late checking in. When I walked in the secretary greeted me with, “Why are you here? We didn’t expect you to come in today.” I thought to myself: Really? I could have stayed home and no one would have thought less of me? Why on earth did I wake up early today?

They had a substitute ready for my classes, and I momentarily considered going back home. But I decided that I had already gotten up before the sun, and fought with ridiculous traffic, so at that point I might as well stay and work. From that day on my Principal thought I was the most resilient teacher on the planet. And while he didn’t stop sending me difficult kids, he did give me pretty much anything I asked for. I’m certain that I had the most well supplied History classroom in the state. (This is obviously not the same principal that banned maps. It’s too bad she had to come along and ruin things.)

A few weeks after John was removed from my classroom I was in the hall dutifully monitoring students as they left the cafeteria. The kids only get 22 minutes for lunch, so it is fairly common to see students hurriedly trying to finish eating as they walk to their 5th period classes. One kid, who was not a student of mine, was quickly working on an ice cream cone. I guess he decided that he didn’t want the rest of it because as he walked by me he stopped eating and smeared his dessert in my face. Then without missing a step he continued around the corner to his class.

I was a little bit stunned for a couple of reasons. First, the ice cream was really really cold. Second, this was some random kid. I didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know who I was. At least when John threw stuff at me he was doing it out of anger and spite. I hadn’t made the ice cream kid sit in a seat he didn’t like, or mark him tardy, or take a magazine away from him, or give him a bad grade on a test. He had no reason to be angry with me or wish death by dairy dessert on me. He just shoved ice cream in my face because it seemed like the thing to do. After spending a minute indulging my indignation, I decided I couldn’t write up a kid I didn’t know and gave up on pursuing appropriate disciplinary measures. Instead I went to the bathroom and washed my face. Then I took a stack of paper towels and put them in my desk drawer in case of future food encounters.

18 August 2010

5th Period Adventures - Part 4: Lemonade

The next day John entered my classroom only 5 minutes late. I took this as a good sign. I was further encouraged by the fact that he was carrying a backpack. Perhaps John had arrived with some scholastic purpose in mind. He sat in his seat for about 3 minutes and then stood up. I decided that John might not want to sit next to Frank in all of his cosmetic glory, and since a couple of students were absent that day I figured I could accommodate him. I asked John to choose an empty seat to sit in. Surprisingly he picked the desk that I lovingly refer to as Outer Siberia where I send the political prisoners. I continued teaching my class about the Black Plague. After looking around for a few minutes John realized that he had voluntarily placed himself in the time out chair, and got up to move. I continued to teach.

John, much like Daniel, was not getting the attention he wanted, so he decided to take more ostentatious action. He stood up and walked around the classroom talking to the other students. I decided that my strategy of ignoring the problem in hopes that it would go away was no longer the best course of action.

“John you need to be in a seat. It doesn’t have to be your chair but you need to be in a chair.”

John drew himself up to his full height and proclaimed, “Miss, you can’t make me sit down.”

“You’re right. I can’t. Do it anyway.”

This confused John and he stopped for a moment, but he quickly re-gathered his senses and continued to walk around the room. At this point it occurred to me that it was very likely that John did not enjoy being told what to do any more than I do. Rather than dictate instructions, I decided to give him some options. “John, you may sit in a chair, or you may stand outside the door.” John sat down. I think he didn’t really want to get locked out again. But he wasn’t about to admit defeat, and certainly did not want to portray an attitude of compliance. As soon as he sat down he reached into his backpack and pulled out a bottle of lemonade. The district maintains a strict no food or drink policy in classrooms, and every student in that room, including John, knew that he had just broken a very aggressively enforced rule. He looked with an “I dare you to stop me” glance. Knowing it wouldn’t work I asked him to put the lemonade away and he again responded with “You can’t make me.” Then very slowly and deliberately he opened the bottle and took a drink. I walked over to him, touched him on the arm and repeated my request. I knew that I had just broken a cardinal rule of teaching by touching a student, but I did not expect the reaction that I got. John angrily threw the bottle on the ground and walked out of my classroom, slamming the door on the way out.

I decided that John had temporarily solved the problem. He was no longer interrupting my class, and I could write him up later. So I picked up his lemonade bottle, threw it away and continued teaching. Within a few minutes I had my students diligently working in groups to trace the route of the Bubonic Plague as it spread throughout Europe. I was standing in the back of the room between two students answering a map question when I heard someone knock on my door. I looked up in time to see another student let John back in the room. Without saying anything John crossed the room and retrieved his lemonade from the trash can, dumped it all over me, threw the empty bottle on the ground, and left the room slamming the door yet again on his way out.

Every student in the room silently watched me and waited for my reaction. I instantly wished I had something of extreme importance to tell them, because I was keenly aware that I had more absolute attention from 5th period than I would ever have from any other class for the rest of my teaching career. Unfortunately their concentration was somewhat wasted. Instead of taking advantage of their attentiveness by sharing deep pearls of wisdom, all I could manage to do was use my sleeve to wipe the lemonade out of my eyes and then check on the students I was standing between. After confirming that both kids all of their materials were lemonade free I finished answering their question, and moved to the next group to see if they needed any help. The class decided that the show was over, and rather disappointedly went half-heartedly back to their assignment.

Despite my best efforts, John successfully interrupted my class more thoroughly than any other student, and more completely than I think he realized or even intended. The kids tried to refocus, but for the rest of the hour my classroom seemed to be a parade of adults completely oblivious to the fact that school was still in session, and I still had a class to teach. First the counselors’ secretary came into class to find out why John was wondering the halls. Next the principal came in to hear what had happened. He was followed by one of our police officers who came to ask if I wanted to press charges. The lead counselor came in to tell me that he was working on a schedule change so that John would no longer be in my class. Every assistant principal in the building stopped for no apparent reason really. They kind of reminded me of people on the freeway who slow down to look at the remnants of an accident that has already been cleaned up. All there is left to see is some broken glass, but they are going to be sure to see it. Then the counselor came in again saying that he couldn’t complete the schedule change without a documented reason, so I needed to write up the incident on the appropriate discipline referral form. A custodian came in to mop the floor. The counselor came in yet again asking if I had completed the referral yet. By the time my neighboring teacher came in to ask if I needed anything I was so sick of interruptions I told him I needed him to leave and lock the door on his way out.