Friday, November 6, 2009

I'm in my third year, and I feel like I'm teaching. That makes me happier than I've ever been. My teaching is punctuated by phrases that seem obvious, "So we see that Hamlet is finally ready to, Kahlil, sit down, do something. His uncle's reaction, KAHLIL, SIT DOWN, AND KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF, shows his guilt." But most of the kids hear the part about Hamlet, and do their work.

Our building on the other hand, is a little out of hand. Teachers record a record number of assaults on their persons, mostly delivered via projectiles thrown either boldy or discreetly. Our hallways are characterized by the speed and roughness of a rugby game, and often at the end of day I pick my way through sheefs of paper through into the stairwells, and occasionally mustard smeers are placed at strategic points, like the newels of the banisters.

I am going to talk to admin shortly along with some colleagues about the situation. I know we have about ten new teachers this year, we've got the flu, and our children are difficult to deal with, but my personal number one pick for the insane atmosphere in our building is the disciplinary team. I have delivered three pink slips to this team. In the first case, two seniors got out of their seats and pushed one another. I told them to sit down. Intstead they grabbed one another and began to wrestle. They banged in the back wall. The taller senior used his bear hug to lift the shorter from the ground, from which point he slammed him down into a desk. At this point I told the taller senior to leave my room. Later I wrote the pink slips.

The response that I got from the team was that these two gentlemen's punishment was to serve two detentions with the instructor. I wrote them back. "Hey," said I. "I'm willing to give them a detention, but surely you know that this doesn't work as a practice for your team. It's against our contract. Secondly, are you going to tell them to serve these detentions?" Implicitly, I was asking, does writing a pink slip mean they will talk to a disciplinarian.

The response was this. "You didn't document any prior interventions." What this means is that I had no record of other disciplinary measures that I had taken with these students. I hadn't disciplined them for anything because they had been well behaved up to that point. "It is the instructor's responsibility to maintain the power of discipline in the classroom." I was not told who would tell them about the detentions, and I assumed this would be me. Since they wouldn't come if I told them they had a detention, I let it go.

But back to the bit about discipline in the classroom. This is the unkindest cut of all, not to mention its ironic reverberation. I had, until that day, felt exceptional about my classroom's discipline. Because my word and good sense had been violated so extremely, in an otherwise calm environment in which expectations and jobs were clear, I felt the disciplinary team should deal with it. Hey, they didn't listen to me. I told them to sit down.

Nope. Nothing from the team except for to tell me I couldn't control my classroom. Ironically, this kind of disciplinary help only adds to the anarchic situation. If you are powerless, and noone has your back, you're powerless.

Anyway, I'm philosophical. My newer colleagues are at their wits' end.