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March 13, 2009

Holy Looney Bin, Batman!

That was the subject of an actual email I sent to Tim yesterday shortly after the bell rang. I was still on an adrenaline high from the day and had a hard time typing even that. I had to type something, though. I had to reach out to someone that would reassure me that the entire world wasn't f*cked up, that there were good, decent, sane people out there and that someone loved me and, of course, that person was Tim. I'm sure the rest of the email was a garbled mess that made very little sense but I clicked send, tossing out my message in a bottle from the isle of crazy that is my school.

You know, when I became a teacher, I didn't go in with many romantic notions. I knew it would be hard but I also knew there were great rewards. My first year, a one year stint in the media center at a large, overcrowded elementary school, was a learning experience. I fell in love with a couple of special needs kids. I got punched in the head while breaking up a fight. My heart broke when we lost a student to a house fire. I realized at the end of the year that yeah, maybe I could make a difference, that maybe I had just found what I was supposed to do for the rest of my career.

When I got my own library at the end of that year (in a much smaller school with a better reputation) I was thrilled. With fewer students and fewer classes, I would be able to really get to know the kids and the teachers, maybe even get in the classrooms to help out the teachers with special projects. I had a courtyard right off my library and I could envision taking my students outside on nice days for storytime. Ok, so maybe I got a little romantic about it.

Over the past 6 years, my school has seen a lot of changes. We're on our 3rd principal, 75% of our staff has turned over, we've been redistricted and a full half of our clientele changed. Suddenly the West Greenville kids were taken out of their neighborhood school and bussed across town to our East Greenville school (and vice versa). What this did was send some very low performing students to our formerly high performing school. It also made us a Title 1 school (meaning the majority get free or reduced lunch) which makes us eligible for more federal funds. Our previously strong PTA redistricted to nothing. It also brought a whole host of behavior problems that our tiny neighborhood school has never had to face. 

I'm not being Pollyannic about our school. Seriously, we never even had a need for In School Suspension (ISS) before. If a student had trouble, we called home and it got taken care of. Since the redistricting, we have felt a change. If a kid gets in trouble, a call home ends up with the parent coming to our school ready for a confrontation. Some of them bring weapons. Calling home doesn't fix the problem, it invites more problems onto our campus.

Still, we were sure we could handle it. We created an ISS class, we created a positive behavior program. We loved all our kids, found ways to get them to be proud of their new school and to teach them basic skills (respect, self control, kindness) that many seemed to be lacking. We tried, we really did, to make the best of a difficult situation for everyone involved but, sadly, it's not working.

Take yesterday for instance. Now this was arguably the worst day in the history of our school but it is pretty indicative of where we are right now.

The day started out pretty normal. I had an ECU student come to read to my classes so she could finish up an assignment. Our media center was busy, bustling but happy. Meanwhile something was brewing on campus that no one could have seen coming.  Around about 11 am, several students from the SED (Serious Emotional Disability) class (formerly the BED or Behavior/Emotional Disability class) came into the library and plopped down at the computers. Something was up and I had no idea what but they know the Media Center is their safe haven whenever something is up. I found out later that the 3rd grade student in there was attacking the Assistant Principal and had kicked her in the face before he was finally calmed down.

About half an hour later, we went into our office for lunch, still not too alarmed since the SED kids usually have one or two blow ups a week. We were just starting to relax when we heard blood-curdling screams coming from the 5th grade hall. Several teachers went out in the hall but we stayed in the media center to keep the students calm and focused on their work. When we walked down the hall about 10 minutes later, though, we saw a few dazed faces and a cop in the hall talking to a surly 5th grader. It took us a while to find out what had happened but apparently there were 2 separate incidents.

  •     Zach (aforementioned surly 5th grader) had decided he didn't want to comply with the rules and he turned into The Hulk, pushing his desk across the room, sending it crashing into several others and screaming at his teacher that he "don't have to f*cking do anything!!!" The class was taken off to PE and he was left behind with the teacher and the cop that was still on campus from the earlier kicking incident.
  • Meanwhile, in the Art class, two girls got into it, one hit the other and the other hit back so hard it knocked the first girl back into the doorjamb so hard she got wobbly. They were taken back to their class (after getting ice) to talk the problem out and, while everything seemed fine and calm for a bit, the instigator (who had hit her head) suddenly stood up and started backing out o the room. In the doorway, she started shreiking about the monkeys in the classroom. She was totally freaked out so apparently she was seeing  those freaky flying Wizard of Oz monkeys, not cute little chimps. Her teacher held onto her while he waited for her mother to come get her. When the mom was advised to take her daughter to the doctor, that a hallucination could be the after effect of a concussion, she kind of shrugged it off, as if her daughter complained of seeing monkeys every day.

As surreal as that was, we were getting back to teaching when I was asked to cover a 4th grade class. "They should be fine, they are just writing and don't worry, Robert is sleeping it off." Not sure what the teacher meant (and a little afraid to ask), I went out to the trailer to cover the class and sure enough, there was a group of students diligently writing stories and one boy sleeping at his desk. Apparently, he had lashed out at the teacher while taking his meds earlier and thrown his water glass in her face but had been sleeping since. How are we supposed to teach him when he sleeps half the day? No one had an answer or me but I did find out he was going to be in the SED program starting next week. Only 6 months into the year to get his some help. Yay red tape!

Before I left that classroom, one of the exceptional teachers came in flushed and winded. She was told to come there to get her out of a different situation in the SED trailer. Apparently a student bit her arm, then went on to slap her teacher in the face. The Assistant Principal came in a little later to check on her and thank me for covering. I went back to my (hopefully) peaceful media center.  I heard later that I had just missed the motorcycle cop driving down the sidewalk between the trailers and the school to respond. I would have had to jump aside. *shucks*

I was just getting back to work when I heard a commotion at the door. The 3rd grade TA had her arms around one of her very angry students and was bringing him to me (of all people). Apparently, he had a fit in music class and the principal, after hearing me talk about him earlier in the day, thought I would be a good person to help calm him down. I led him into my office, asking one of the students that was in the media center to jump behind the desk and run circulation while I talked to him.

It took a good 5 minute before he would look at me but as I touched his arm, his clenched fists unballed and he finally grabbed onto my fingers. Holding his hands, face to face, I just talked to him until the rage left his eyes. He is suspended until next week so I'm not sure what is happening with him but I do know that, in part, was what set him off ... he is in a very volatile household and being home will be a huge inconvenience to his mother, which will cause more volatility. I felt terrible putting him on the bus but I told him I loved him (I seriously do love this kid and I have since the first day I met him last year. More on him later, I'm making him my project) and to come see me Wednesday.

MEANWHILE, one of our 4th graders found out he was suspended for 2 days and HE flipped out and had to be carried to the office where it took 2 people to hold him while waiting for his social worker to come pick him up.

AND a parent came into the office drunk off her ass to complain that her son is being unfairly punished because can't ride the bus anymore after he "allegedly" sexually assaulted another boy on the way to school. She eventually was escorted out of the office and off campus only to meet with several police cars across the street.

There were many more little incidents yesterday ... the parent that tried to barge into the principal's office without checking in, the rude phone calls about the late bus in the morning, a little fist fight in Kindergarten (I say little because their fists are little) over two pencil boxes that were touching ... and at the end of the day we were left shell-shocked and bruised.

I filled my water bottle at the bubbler and went to check in our first year 5th grade teachers Robbie, 22 (who was with the monkey-seeing girl) and Katie, 22 (who had the surly HULK SMASH DESK kid) and make sure they were ok. Slowly teachers began filing in to talk and share what had happened and before you knew it, a group of us were laughing to the point of crying.

Some teachers (like a few of the 1st grade team) were totally oblivious to the entire day, which is great because we know that the volatile emotions were contained. Some of the teachers knew every detail about their one incident or about the incident in the office but had no idea everything else that had happened. In the end, none of these teachers knows every single student that was affected nearly as well as I do, having had the privilege to teach every last one of them. To say it was an emotionally wrenching day is a gross understatement.

Again, I have to say this was an UNUSUALLY insane day. We were chalking it up to a combination of the full moon and spring fever. Then we realized today was Friday the 13th and we all thought we should boycott for our own safety. While that sounded like an excellent idea, when I pulled in this morning, every single teacher was there, even the one that has a black eye. The police weren't called once today. We all kept looking at each other nervously, as i we were waiting for the other shoe to drop and, when the end of the day came with no incidents, a spontaneous celebratory cheer rang through the halls. 

Do I still think I can make a difference? Of course I do.

Do I think I deserve more money for what I do? Oh, HELLZ to the YEAH!!!  Our state/county/city is facing a budget crisis of epic proportions and with the recent hiring and budget freezes, no one feels too secure in their job. I know, I should be glad I still have a job. I would like to get paid for what I'm worth, though. 

Do I wish I worked someplace else, in a cubicle perhaps? Some days, you betcha ... but not today. This Friday the 13th went off without a hitch. Monday? That's another story.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Prosemonkey published on March 13, 2009 5:28 PM.

Grace in small things... was the previous entry in this blog.

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