The recent evaluations of New York City teachers is unfair, flawed, and do not address the core problem that permeates many of the city schools. There is a system in place that teachers have to work within that doesn’t account for miscreant children or apathetic parents. I have been in classes where there have been students that have decided that hardback textbooks make better projectile weapons than learning tools, that classrooms were Singles hook-up rooms, and that the teacher was a rude interruption in their conversations about the latest drama that happened in the lunchroom or the previous night’s reality show’s highlights. There was an instance where I needed help from the NYPD security guards because tempers flared between two groups of students and chairs and hardback textbooks were being thrown across the room, and I went into the hallway and with appropriate urgency requested help. The guard leaned forward in her chair, got up, and strolled towards my classroom. She looked in and shrugged, and walked away. By the time she got there, the drama was over. She took me aside and told me that she had a problem with the way I “demanded their help.” She didn’t like the tone of my voice and made it clear that I should never under any circumstances talk like that to her in front of the students ever again. I told her that there were students in harm’s way and I needed assistance, and I didn’t feel I had time to say “please” or “thank you.” She sauntered away and told me to “control my classroom,” which made me feel like I was in the wrong profession.
Once when I entered a classroom there was a very tall female student writing her name on the chalkboard in very big, flowing script. I asked her to sit down, and she told me: “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re just a sub.” I was used to this by then, but it was still a very frustrating reminder. I asked her, “Do you want to teach the class today?” She agreed, truly excited at the prospect. She opened her textbook and stood in front of the class. “OK, class. Open your books to page 241.” She wasn’t bad, and she actually knew what page they were on. Unfortunately, other than a cluster of friends who looked up curiously, then went back to their conversation, she was ignored. “They’re not listening to me,” she said, a little frustrated and surprised. “I know.” I sighed. She sat down with her friends as I passed out the handouts left for me by the real teacher.
There was another circumstance when that very same female student decided she would beat another female student with her book-bag. A male teacher should never, under any circumstance put himself between two female students, for obvious reasons. Again, the occasion called for request for help from security. I respectfully and politely as possible under the circumstances called for assistance. Two official NYPD security personnel arrived at my class room door, the same female guard whom I had offended earlier, and a male guard, the same round size, shape and weight as his partner. They looked on as the mayhem continued, arguing over which one of them should go in and intervene. I finally went in myself and grabbed the back pack in mid-swing, careful not to make physical contact with the female perp. As I did so the female guard strolled in and did her part, which was to ask the aggressive child to return to her seat and calm down. The female child who was being beaten got up from the floor and ran out of the classroom. “Let her go,” the female guard told me. I gave her a questioning look and she turned away and returned to her seat down the hall behind the desk in front of the main entrance. Status quo leaves no real help for the victim, and not many realistic options for the teacher.
I have spent a lot of valuable time “controlling my classroom” when I could have been teaching students who wanted to learn; focusing my energy and attention on keeping the smaller kids out of harm’s way of the bullies and gang members instead of concentrating on my day’s lesson plans, because the detention room was full and the assistant principal’s office was already filled to the brim with young adults who are the furthest thing from the term “students” as you can get without being tried as a responsible adult.
There was a day when I was given detention duty during lunch. There was a small kid in there that I recognized from one of the Honor’s class. “What are you doing in here?” I asked him. “I hit somebody.” He told me.
“Why did you do that? You shouldn’t hit anybody.” I gave him the responsible adult talk about violence.
“I had to. I got hit, and if I don’t hit back, then I’m a target for the rest of the year. You can’t show that you’re weak.” Ah, yes. In the jungle, only the strong survive – basic evolution being learned under the arc of projectile textbooks. At the end of the day you could measure my personal success rate as to how many children got to return home unhurt, and which ones learned how to avoid the fists and fury of other students who haven’t yet learned, by the age of adolescence, to be responsible for their own actions.