Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It was beginning to sound a lot like... San Quentin

Most teachers would agree that it’s hard to get students to stay on task the day before a holiday.
CISD was no exception the day before Christmas break.  I knew my students would have a hard time paying attention, or that several would just not come to school.  So I didn’t create any major assignments and only took minor grades for the day.  I tried to let them have more of a “party” atmosphere without letting things get out of hand. 

Things getting out of hand was inevitable, although not in my classes.  We had some major problems going into the day.  The first problem was that we were short many administrators.  Despite a district rule that mandates that employees are not to take off days before a holiday, several did, proving that the rules only apply to us “common folk.”  Our principal decided to go with the band on its contest trip to Chicago, despite the fact that this is her first year as principal at our school, her first year in the district and the band trip had been planned in the spring and had another administrator already in tow.  Word is that she has family in Chicago that she hadn’t seen in a long time and wanted to visit.  

Problems began erupting at lunch.  We have four lunch periods, and food fights broke out in every single one.  One of the aides told me she was instructed to stand, alone, at the entrance of the cafeteria to keep any students from leaving, as the administrators wanted to keep the instigators in the cafeteria and from running off.  A single woman standing alone in the face of at least 800 students each lunch period seems like the ideal way to keep rowdy near-adults in line, right? 

“Where were the security guards?” I asked.  You know, the security guards that our dangerously overcrowded and potentially violent campus is supposed to have stationed at the end of each floor?  

She just shrugged.  “I never saw them.”

During my class after lunch, I heard noises in the hallway that meant a fight was breaking out.  I walked to the door and looked out the window, in time to see two Hispanic teens taking swings at each other.  A coach two doors down ran out in the hall, blowing her whistle frantically.  I turned around and walked away from the door, only to see at least 20 students with huge eyes staring at me.

“Miss M, is that a fight?”

I nodded.  “Get back to work.”  I suppose that response was a little flippant, but the fight wasn’t that exciting anyway.

I heard the coach and now one of our assistant principals in the hall, and it was clear they were hauling the two boys away.  Less than five minutes pass before more shouts erupted in the hallway.  This time I walked back and opened the door.  A crowd was gathered and yelling, which, if you’ve ever taught at an inner-city school, means yet another fight was underway.  Four male teachers were running towards the crowd.

Students began to crowd behind me to see what was happening.  “Get back to your seats,” I ordered.  “Sit down right now.”  I yanked the door shut behind me and stood there until they sat down.

“Ms. M, why aren’t you going out there?” one girl asked.

I squinted at her.  “Because you’re in here, and that’s where I should be.”  I was holding the receiver of the phone on my desk and dialing the office.

“You need to stop them!  Aren’t you supposed to do something?” 

“I’m calling the office.  What else do you want me to do?”  I’m not a superhero.  I’m a woman who’s a lot shorter and smaller than most of the male students here, and she expected me to try and get in between angry grappling teens who are both at least six feet tall? That’s not something I’m willing to do at my pay grade.

Apparently the fighters were separated, and campus security finally showed up to cuff them and haul them off, since both boys are 18.  I heard later that security was late because the guards were trying to break up a fight at the other end of the school.  Too bad I missed that one.   The campus security guards carry tasers and are supposed to be able to use them if need be.

By my last class period, the entire school was on lockdown.  Students were not allowed to leave class to go to the bathroom, or get a drink, or do anything.  Police cars were in front of the school to take some of the offenders away.  When the final bell rang, the teachers had to escort students to the exits, and then lock the doors after they left.  Teachers looked exhausted and stressed, and at least one of the aides was crying.

Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Since you're not busy...

The phone was ringing as I walked into the computer lab.  I didn’t bother to pick it up, because it’s usually not for me.  Most of the time people call for the coach, as she has her classes in the lab most of the time.  I use the room once a day, as do two others, but if the phone rings, it’s always the same conversation.

“Is Coach Crouse there?”

“No, I have class in here right now.”

“Oh.”  There’s usually a pause at this point.  “Who is this?”

“This is Ms. Marlow,” I usually respond patiently. 

“Do you know where Coach Crouse is?”

Clearly she’s not here, I want to say, but I never do.  “No, I have no idea where she goes during her off period,” I reply, emphasizing the last two words. 

At this point, they either say “okay” and hang up, or they ask what room they just called.  Somehow it’s like they don’t trust that they’re calling the right room, or that I’m actually telling the truth.  I tell them, then they waste time asking about where the coach is for a few more seconds, and finally they hang up.

I was writing my bellwork on the board when the phone started ringing again.  Irritated, I walked across the room to see who was calling.  It said “front office,” so I figured we could run through our spiel at least once before the bell rang and the students came in.  Hopefully the caller wouldn’t keep calling back, which happened last week as I tried to keep order in the room. “Hello?” I said.

“Is this Sherri?”

Me, stifling a big sigh, “No, this is Ms. Marlow.”

“Oh, good.  You’re the one I was looking for.” 

This is highly unusual.  “Okay…”

“This is Patricia.”

“Oh, hi Patricia, what’s up?”  Patricia is the principal’s secretary. 

“Ms. George wants you to come to the cafeteria right away.”

Ms. George is the principal.  This is weird.  “Why?”  I’m thinking that if it’s an emergency, there’s no way I’ll be of any help.  I’m not big or scary looking like Coach Crouse.  Maybe that’s really who they were hoping to get but had to take whoever answered the phone. 

“She wants you to come and take photos of the students during lunch for the theme day.”

Oh.  OH.  OH.  NOW?

Homecoming is on Friday, and our school has been hoping to increase school spirit by having theme days every day until Homecoming.  Yesterday was Crazy day, where students dressed crazy.   Today is Twin Day, where they… I don’t think I need to explain it further. 

It’s pretty hard to get students at my school excited about anything, due to the general prison-like atmosphere that pervades the building.  I’m sure the administration would love to display photos of students having fun and participating.  I sure would.  But not right now, when I have a class of nearly 30 sullen teens about to enter the room. 

I clear my throat.  “I have class.”

There’s a slight pause.  “She needs someone now.” I can tell that Patricia is surprised and doesn’t know how to respond.

“Yeah, but I have MY CLASS coming in in just a few seconds.”     

“Are there any yearbook students you could get?”

I close my eyes.  “If I’d known about it before, sure.  But I can’t get them now because I have to TEACH – MY – CLASS. ” I slow the last three words down significantly.

Patricia asks if there are any yearbook students at lunch now, and I can only think of two.  She says 
she’ll have them come to me to get instructions. 

“No,” I say, “they don’t need to do that.  Tell them the principal wants them to take photos, and they can use their cell phones.”  I know she doesn’t want to say that, as cell phones are a no-no at my school, but how else are they going to get these precious, precious photos? 

The bell rings as I hang up.  I’m getting more and more aggravated as I think about the phone call I just had.  I’m supposed to drop everything right now for a photo op?  What the hell do you think my job is around here?  Since when are TEACHERS supposed to just leave a roomful of kids to run and document things for the administration?  Aren’t teachers supposed to, you know, teach?  

What a fool I was...