Friday, September 28, 2012

The Lord Of The Rings

Buses are a nightmare for school administrators.  They're unsupervised other than the individual driving whose main focus is (or should be...) the road.  Drivers have zero training with kids (a fact that usually evidences itself several times throughout the year), and typically their management bag of tricks is filled with one strategy- yelling (note: if you are a teacher and this is your only management strategy, it might be time to think about a new line of work...).

It's not uncommon for my days to open with parent phone calls or visits complaining about what their child reported upon coming home.  Most of these issues are easily taken care of with simple student conferences, but occasionally more serious issues present themselves.

Recently I had a mother of one of our students come in shortly after the day had begun.  She was very upset indicating her fifth grade son Allen (who was a great kid) had been attacked on the bus by a student 'wearing lots of rings' and that his face was 'all cut up.'  Apparently the boy had texted his mom from the bus prompting the visit.  Normally I would have been a little suspect, but Allen was such a great kid I figured there was some truth to the matter.  I promised mom I would get to the bottom of things and she left.

My mind was soaring all over the place.  As I sat waiting for Allen to get to my office to talk I was imagining scenes from The Outsiders or kids carrying brass knuckles and other terrible visions of violence involving rings.

When Allen got to my office he indeed did have a scratch on a portion of his lower cheek.  It wasn't anything that needed to be treated and his head certainly had been split open by a fist full of metal the way his mother had led me to possibly believe when she hurled out words like 'assaulted.'

Allen and I talked.  He said he'd 'accidentally' elbowed the other boy who in turn hit him and scratched him with his rings.  When I asked him who had done this, he said he didn't know the boys name but that he was in third grade and had a Star Wars backpack.  A third grader?  

It didn't require much investigating to find out the boys name and have him summoned my office to join us.  When the kid walked in, the first thing I did was ask him to show me his hands.

Sure enough his right hand had three rings on them.  Two were of Spiderman and the third was of Darth Vader   All three were made of cheap plastic and had come from the top of birthday cupcakes someone had passed out to the class at some point.

Bloods and Crips this was not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mystery No. 2

There's few things worse about being an administrator then having to ask another person to clean up human shit.  I've worked with enough custodians and they can see it in your eyes when you approach to break the news.  "It's shit isn't it?"

The bathroom can be a nightmare for schools as it's the only location on campus that generally isn't under direct adult supervision at all times.  Cameras can't be used like on a bus. The boys bathroom at an elementary school is often even tougher sledding because of the usual lack of male teachers.  Of course, the kids know this.  For this reason, the bathrooms make logical points for fighting, dealing drugs, sharing answers, and of course, creating misadventures in with number twos.

A few years back in one of our bathrooms in the primary wing of the elementary school we started finding a healthy size log in the urinal every day.  Nothing is worse than when it's smeared and played with (which also usually signals serious psychological issues), but again, I'm not the one cleaning it up.  When you start having daily 'hey can you clean up the crap' chats with your day custodian you better keep their service in mind when Christmas comes around.

Day after day, log after log, the ordeal carried on.  We watched for it, had full staff meetings about the mad shitter, developed plans to strategically monitor the bathroom, charted times of day we discovered the poos, and reminded students of expected behavior.  So much for academic focus.  

It had become my habit to walk into the particular bathroom that was getting hit anytime I passed it throughout the day at this point.  Finally after nearly two weeks of daily 'surprises', I walked into the bathroom to see one of the cuter kids in the school, a little first grader, propped up on the urinal passing his cafeteria roast beef.  "Hi Principal!" he excitedly said as he continued his business.  He had no idea he was even doing anything wrong.

Asking your custodian to clean up this kind of mess sucks, but having to call a boy's father and alert him that his six year old son doesn't know how to take a dump in public is no picnic either.  The father was a fairly even mixture of embarrassed and pissed.  He wanted his son to clean toilets as punishment (no no no...), but also produced a number of laughable excuses like the stalls are too high (the urinals are higher...), too loud when they flush, etc.  Truth was, no one had ever explained to this poor kid what the different plumbing options were for.  He didn't have a urinal at home so this was novel.

Sadly, after we thought we had this mystery solved, the kid kept doing it for a couple more days (more tough custodial chats, more embarrassing phone calls to Dad...).  Eventually we developed a plan where a staff member had to enter the bathroom, watch the kid go into the stall, then exit and stand outside till he was done, and then re-enter the bathroom and check the scene.  I'm happy to report though that several years from the event that the student is doing well and using the shitter properly.  It's the little victories that sometimes matter the most....

Friday, September 7, 2012

Not Everyone Is Meant To Be A Teacher

Teaching jobs are difficult to come by in many parts of the country right now.  With the economy a mess, retirements are down, and schools are cutting all over the place thus reducing the number of available jobs further.  It's certainly a buyers market for hiring administrators and too many talented young teachers are stuck working as aides or substitutes.

However, the above scenario doesn't apply to all points in time nor all locations.  My first teaching position was in a school that was like a revolving door for jobs.  They annually had so many to fill that they ended hiring people who I believe may have had some mental defects (not sure what that says about me now that I think of it...).  The school just didn't get the cream of the crop in terms of applications- particularly in traditionally harder to fill disciplines like math, special education, or foreign language.

But if we thought off season hirings were difficult to fill with good candidates, mid season additions were even more limited.  Thus, our next tale.

Our middle school team had gradually increased in the number of students we had and the administration felt that a part time reading teacher was needed.  A few days later, Norm Nichols was ushered into our team meeting and introduced by the principal.

Norm was a short chubby guy in his 50s.  He hadn't taught in years and prior to apparently being the only candidate without a serious felony on his record, taught theater in some small town (and apparently couldn't hold that gig down).  Norm dressed daily in full three-piece suits last worn fashionably by Elliot Ness, and carried a worn leather briefcase (with what inside I have no idea).  To top it off, Norm had a toupee that looked more like a fairway divot than human hair and had an eye that was either fake or dead in some variety. One can obviously see how a principal could meet Norm and come to the conclusion that he'd do a good job teaching 8th graders reading in a large urban school.

You can imagine how this went.

Norm taught while we had our shared planning (his part time status, combined with scheduling issues didn't allow him to join us), and did so in my classroom which was directly next door to the room the team met in.  Each day we'd hear inconceivable chaos, things (people?) hitting the walls, and then Norm's eventual manic breakdown... "Shut up!!! SHUT UP!!!! SHUT UPPPP!!!!!

At this point, daily, I would go over to rescue him.  He'd be dripping in sweat, out of breath, with his 70's tie loosened, and his hair divot hanging off his head.  I'd settle the kids about the time the bell would ring, leaving sweet Normy and I uncomfortably alone to chat a little.

"You okay Norm?"

"Oh yes." he'd say as if he really believed it. "We'll get em' tomorrow!"

"Yeah, okay.  But, um, Norm... listen.  There were textbooks underneath all of the desks when I left here. I see a lot of them missing.  Any idea where I might find them.  I kind of need them."

"Hmmm. I'm not really sure." he'd say, still trying to catch his breath.

"Ok, we'll figure it out.  Don't worry about it.  I think we have some extras.  But Norm, it appears the picture of my girlfriend has been launched into the wall and possibly stomped on.  Any idea which student did that?"

"Hmmm.  I don't think anyone was out of their seats..."

Sure Norm.  I just watched the wall become temporarily concave as one student likely tackled another during a guided reading of Waiting For The Rain.

"Ok.  Well.  Have a good afternoon Norm."

Thankfully, Norm wasn't back the following year.  Like many great warriors before him, I'll just assume he disappeared into a sunset of door-to-door sale work where his suits likely opened many reluctant doors for him.  Or not.