Sunday, October 5, 2008

There are sane jobs out there.

When we hit orientation in the Delta, we were given a speech about blogging and talking to the media. Basically, we're expected to think long and hard about how what we say will impact society's perception of our kids, our schools, and our organization. So I haven't been writing much about my job.

I know that all workplaces have their problems. I've listened to my dad's stories about when he first started in the engineering department under a boss who managed by belittlement and intimidation. I know that police officers, firefighters, and the men and women of the armed forces face more dangerous situations than I on a daily basis, and for this I am immensely grateful. Practically any job involves an element of stress.

There are, however, probably a lot of jobs that don't involve teenagers threatening to shoot you. There are jobs where you don't get cursed at on a daily basis, where you don't spend any significant fraction of your time trying to keep violence from breaking out in your workplace.

There are probably also a lot of schools where you can use the Fred Jones methods of body language and proximity to show you mean business without having students inform you that you are going to get hit if you keep doing that. I would guess that in most schools, if a student picks up a chair and threatens to throw it at another student while calling him a [racial epithet], refuses to go to the office, and wanders the halls until security hunts her down, the office wouldn't send the student back to class after talking to her for a few minutes.

I'm getting better at handling the minor misbehavior, the talking and juvenile silliness. The options at my disposal, a referral to the office or a phone call home, generally have some impact on that. Not so much on the student who piped up during a discussion of speed to tell me he has a rifle with a scope on it, suggest that that travels faster than 70mph, and inquire whether I could outrun it. He was back in the hallways making shooting motions with his fingers and grabbing his crotch as he walked by me a few days later. I'm not sure what impact sending him back to the office had. At least the kid who directly threatened to shoot me is being much friendlier now and is no longer in my class.

It's also highly ineffective for administrators to tell students that they view anyone throwing anything at me as assault and that they will pursue legal action and expulsion and then give the one student of the many I know are doing this who I'm able to actually catch three days of in school suspension and send him back. (Don't threaten consequences you won't enforce, please.) The kid continued throwing things. Upon catching him again, I wrote him up and dealt with his subsequent defacing of the referral form and managed to get him to stop screaming expletives at me and get the hell out of my room. As I began to write another form to send down to the office, I was hit by an open bottle of lotion which spilled all over my pants, absolutely hilarious in the eyes of my students. Then, of course, the 2L bottle of hand sanitizer I provided because there is no soap in the bathrooms was thrown my way, along with several paper wads. (At least it wasn't a book this time; my medical dictionary is in pieces because of that class.) I went to the office to get help, and an assistant principal told me he'd try to get to it that day but that there was little he could do unless the students confess. I ended up leaving early after struggling not to break down in front of my next class, and I know that by Monday every kid in the school will know that and perceive me as even weaker than they already do. I fully expect to be hit by a student someday.

In short, my classroom culture sucks. There's this charming idea in TFA that if I can just invest my students in doing well and get them to want to succeed all of these problems will go away, but I can't envision doing that with some of these kids. The year got off to a poor start, it's largely my fault for being such a shattered wreck the first weeks of school, and I don't know if it is fixable. I'm exhausted and running out of emotional resources to devote to this task.


Zombie Money said...

Wow , hope things get better. Do the older teachers say the classroom was this bad 10-20 years ago?

Or do you think it has gotten worse?

Mary Sue said...

I'm third generation educator.

It's always been this bad.

Hold on, talk to your mentors and coworkers, and Fred Jones? Seriously? They're still teaching that shit?

E.C. said...

Oh, well, Fred Jones is very sane compared to the whole TFA thing. Or at least he seemed like it during the final week of institute when our school director finally decided it was ok to expose us to a non-TFA perspective on teaching. Seriously, the two people resposible for my training at Institute had a total of three years teaching experience between them.

It hasn't always been quite this bad here, according to staff members who were once students here themselves.Once upon a time, the academics still sucked but the students didn't generally threaten teachers, or at least didn't get away with it quite so often.