Thursday, December 16, 2010

PART 1-Why I sometimes wish I taught Elementary school

Like a lot of the Nation's teachers we have been challenged by some of the recent trends and changes in education. So I thought it time to try and lighten the mood.

It was a tense time at our high school with numerous fights in recent days (2 of which I was involved in breaking up) and there was an overall unsettled feeling among the students. Whether it is the stress of the start of school, the recent hurricanes, or the hot weather everybody seemed to be on edge. It was in this setting that our story begins. I was in my 5th year of full time teaching and felt I was finally coming into my own. While on lunch duty in the schools breezeway(our open courtyard area in the school's center), I saw an orange sail high into the air and strike the ground some 70 feet away. I saw the place of origin of the orange and started in that direction to see if I could gather some "intell", prevent further missile launching, or even find who threw it. Several students noticed my approach and menacing gaze and I signaled to them to come over to me with a point and hand gesture. This act was repeated 5 or 6 times as each of them feigned ignorance as to my request. While I was still some 50 feet away they all began looking at one student and he finally went and picked up his bag and then lugged himself to me. As we neared each other it was obvious that I knew that he now knew that I had zeroed in on him as the culprit based on his nervous demeanor and sunken stance(a skill that teachers pick up once you’ve taught awhile). I asked "what the heck" he was doing and told him to go pick up that orange and then come back over to which time I would have my lecture fully prepared and I would have found some suitable way to instill the necessary guilt in him and make him feel “stupid” in today's politically correct and sensitive world. That would likely have been the end of it.

We could all walk away and go on about our business and the world would continue spinning at its normal speed uninterrupted. But instead something very different took place. He slowly walked away and began to fiddle around with his bookbag veering away from where the orange had landed. Frustrated by his lack of progress I headed towards him and from a distance more sternly stated "Go pick up that orange, and then come back over there!"(pointing to where I had been standing). I turned my back and in the 5-7 seconds in which I returned to my perch on the nearby steps he had ducked down and all I saw was him scurrying away through the crowd. "He's running away?" I asked myself. This I took as a direct challenge on my authority(whatever that may be and in reality a mere facade in many of our schools) and frankly was not a situation in which I often find myself.

At this point I was rather miffed and when I looked at his buddies in the spot where the orange had originated they were laughing. Feeling my status as a respected member of the faculty now in jeopardy I knew I had to put things back into their proper order. On the way over to them I tried to think of quick and witty phrases to demonstrate my superior intellect in hopes it would force them not only to reveal the identity of the student who fled but also restore my status as top dog on the breezeway. With the luxury of time and hindsight I can think of several things I could have said . But upon my arrival all I could say was "who was that kid who just ran away?" They all shrugged their shoulders and continued to laugh. In their huddle were about 7-8 kids, the more intelligent of whom began to drift away sensing my growing unhappiness. I again inquired as to the identity of the perpetrator and was met with simple and muffled replies of "I don't know his name" or "what kid". At this point the tenor of my inquiries changed and it became rather apparent I was beginning my slow and steady rise up the crazy meter. When I inquired a third time one student had the audacity to say "Dude, I don't even know what you're talking about." Well that did it. In an instant things got a lot worse and I would cross a line from which I could not retreat.

No I didn't hit or curse at any of them(although I was thinking about it). Instead I began to rant about how now things had just gotten a lot more serious and "I need some names" yeah... " Let's start with your name"... I stated this quite clearly using the King's English I had been taught to use since I was a child as I pulled the red pen from my shirt pocket(though I had no paper). Still one obstinate, and in my opinion either rather foolish or rather stupid student quipped, "What did you say?" I then began to sound out the syllables and use mocked hand gestures(in hindsight this was in poor taste but would have been funny 15 years ago). I pulled the only paper I had readily available, a bank receipt, from my wallet and scribbled the names of two students onto the paper, which regrettably looked painfully unofficial. All the while I was well aware of not only how callous and overt they were being in their rebuttal of my actions but how they were perfectly comfortable with their behavior and expected me to just take it. At this point we were locked in duel of wills, a duel sadly that only one side could win, but we could both lose.

By now the crowd of friends had shrunk and I was engaged directly with only two young men, their female acquaintance and their buddy who knew enough to stay farther away but still be able to listen and laugh smugly and egg them on. The next step was unthinkable as I went on to explain that I would now make it my sworn duty to be present at this exact spot every lunch and every break and I would be sure to enforce every school rule to the letter of the law. I ranted for some time about how this could have all been so easy but now it was too late and they would be the ones who regret these events and this day,(and that damned orange). Surely these realities must have begun to sink in and scared them and they would now shrink back into their mandated role at the bottom of the hierarchy...sadly no. They continued to smile defiantly and we both knew that their side was winning. I felt all that I had worked so hard for slipping away. In the back of my mind I wished for one to curse at me or even take a swing at me… or at least provoke me into escalating the severity beyond the petty incident that put us into this situation so I could write them up. I began to slip into the beginning of what others might call rage. I myself seldom lose control and cannot recall doing so if it didn't involve someone picking on an innocent and intellectually defenseless student or an behavior so despicable it must be met with contempt, but these did not exist here. They were just acting like jerks who apparently had never been taught the value of respect.

So I did what every red blooded American teacher worth their salt would have done. I


1 comment:

  1. Yes! I've been waiting months for "The Orange Story." I just don't think the "outside world" can appreciate how such small things can suddenly become so big. Thankfully those moments come fewer and farther between the longer you teach and learn.