Thursday, March 12, 2015

All who wander are not lost, they're just becoming a legal nightmare

“Where are you supposed to be?”

This is a common question that students are asked by me and other adults who find them in the hallways. Usually the kids are enjoying their freedom in the most indiscreet, irresponsible manner possible, because that’s what you want to do when you’re not in class.

As a teacher, I can always tell when a student is skipping class.  Said student usually looks in the windows or doors of other classes and try to get the attention of any friend or acquaintance they see.  Obviously, when said student is skipping class or wasting time in the hallway, the best way to not get caught is to bother another class.  His or her friend will also keep a low profile by waving to the student, laughing loudly or saying to the teacher, “I just need to talk to him/her for a minute.”  I try to be considerate, and allow my student to fully step out into the hall to talk to his skipping friend before I slam the door and lock it behind him.  

Kids skipping class is part of any school experience.  Getting caught is also part of the school experience. But what shouldn’t be part of the school experience is hearing, “My teacher didn’t show up and I don't know where I'm supposed to be.”

I’ve dealt with this on a regular basis.  Students arrive at class, only to find the door locked and the lights off.  The teacher either called in sick or is off doing something else, like chaperoning a field trip.  But rather than have a substitute in the room or a plan for where his or her class should go in the meantime, the administration just forgets about it.  Students, with no adult to keep an eye on them, begin wandering the hallway, looking for something to do and for someone that they can bother.  

That’s where I come in, basically collecting loose students rolling around like loose change, except not as valuable.  Whenever I hear "I don't know where my class is," my response is “Come on in.  We’re going to find out right now.”  The student might sit down, or start making excuses that they just forgot and now remembered where to go, or ask me if they can just stay in my room. Even so, I always pick up my classroom phone and begin dialing the office.  Usually, the office is as clueless about what's happening as the student is.

As a parent, you'd like to think your kids are supervised while at school.  They generally are - by a teacher like me.  But there's a good chance little Jimmy is wandering around because no one made a sub schedule, or called a sub, or informed him that things had changed for the day?  And the teachers like me are wasting class time trying to track down the Jimmy’s classroom and/or teacher to find out what is going on.

When I taught at TCS, one year the school decided to schedule a whole school field trip.  Students were required to return the permission slips, so of course half of the students didn’t.  The administration decided that most of the teachers would chaperone, but of course, some would stay.
I was one of the lucky few who got to stay behind with half of the school population.  The problem was that the school hadn’t planned what to do with the stay-behind students.  No one told them their teachers would be gone, or where they should go in the meantime.  I collared 16 students and made them sit in my room, while I made fruitless phone calls to the front office. The students thought it was great, even though most of them had to sit on the floor because we ran out of chairs.  Half of them told me it didn't matter because "we never do anything in Mr. K's class anyway." 

You may say, "Well, this was only because you were teaching in a charter school, which has fewer teachers, less oversight and more vague promises about a better education that don't align with reality!  This doesn't happen at MY child's school!"  

I'm glad you think so.  But I'm teaching in a public school, and I'm still seeing the same thing every day. In fact, the last time I was out for "training," I came back to find that the substitute for my 5th period class never showed up at all.  The kids proudly told me that they "just kept real quiet and watched Netflix."  

So, while you were assuming your child was getting a good education, he or she may be sitting on the floor of a crowded classroom with other strays while the teacher keeps opening and shutting the door and answering the phone.  The good news is that he or she has plenty of friends in the hallway to wave at.