My classroom door was locked eighth period. This violated district policy. By law, two teachers should have been in the room, but the administrators exploited loophole for “non-core” classes – like many schools in the city. Forty percent of my seventh-grade class of 25 students was considered learning disabled, about six students were emotionally volatile, and I taught the class alone… last period… right after gym class. By that time, all meds had worn off. The boys were keyed up from gym class, the girls were twitterpated by the boy’s exuberance, and I was alone with them.
The door was locked because my student, who I’ll call George, had pushed me, sexually harassed me, and screamed anti-Semitic comments at me on several instances in the recent past. He had also injured a school safety officer. He wasn’t supposed to be in my classroom because he was a danger to me and his classmates after his meds wore off. The administration, however, didn’t know where to put him. They told me, “Just ignore him when he comes in.” That caused problems, because he was never content to simply come in and hang out. He came in and tried to shut down the computer hooked up to the SMART Board. He unplugged the projector I had donated to my classroom, making it overheat when I plugged it back in and causing unplanned down time in a volatile room. He grabbed the clipboard on which I tracked my students’ weekly progress and ripped up an entire week’s worth grading. He stole his classmates’ projects and threatened to rip them up. He got in my face and postured in a threatening say, saying, “Whatcha gonna do now? Yeah, you gonna take it up the a** like all them Jews.” I was supposed to ignore this.
George was 13 years old, but could have passed for 18 easily. He had no filter, and he was very strong. There was a real possibility each time he started his shenanigans that he’d spark the other unstable students in the room. He knew that the administration would keep sending him back to my classroom, that he would face no consequences for his actions, and that I was stuck.
Back to the locked door and a class working on a project… With a few exceptions, the class was making progress in its work. George occasionally came to the room and pounded on the safety glass in the door two or three minutes at a stretch. During one of those bouts, the guidance counselor unlocked the door and let him in. He gave me a stern look, despite the fact that he had filled in the paperwork when George injured the safety officer and had arranged for his month-long sojourn in a structured environment for mental health stabilization. The guidance counselor came to me and reminded me of district policy. I whispered to him that he would be responsible for the safety of my kids and for getting George back out of my room.
As I whispered this to the guidance counselor, George ran two laps around the room. He grabbed my bag of poster board and markers, drawing a huge penis on a sheet and dancing around the room with it. The guidance counselor ineffectually prompted George to calm down and join him in the hall. George responded by throwing the phallus-marked poster board at me, hitting me in the face with a corner of it and yelling, “That’s for you! You take it! Yeah! Ha! Take it!”
The guidance counselor made another attempt to validate George’s feelings and suggest discussing this in the hallway. George unplugged my projector, threw it in my trash can, and then overturned the trash can. I said in a calm, level voice, “It’s time for you to leave my room, George.”
This was beyond anything I’d seen from him. We were all in serious danger. It took every bit of concentration to keep a neutral facial expression, knowing that George was manic, strong, and between my kids and the door. My students looked on with fear on their faces, and I knew he was aware of their fear.
Just then a tough, male teacher passed by and saw the tense situation. He ordered George out of the room, and George came out of it enough to follow him. I locked the door again upon his departure, and the guidance counselor watched without judgment this time. I looked at my students, who didn’t seem to be breathing. They stared at me, mouths agape. I ignored the adrenaline and said, “Okey dokey. That was exciting. Now who’s ready for me to check grammar?” One of my superstars raised a hand and then my kids were miraculously back to bickering about who was next. While I passed from one student to another, I secretly extracted a pinky-promise from a trustworthy student next to the door not to let anyone go near the door.
We all worked for about three minutes when George pounded loudly on the door again. He saw some of his classmates flinch and started banging harder. Now that he wasn’t between me and the phone, I called school security, but nobody answered. I couldn’t get any of the administrators, either. I went back to working with kids on their projects. When they asked how I could concentrate with the pounding, I made a face and said, “Pounding? What pounding? You hear pounding? Maybe you should get that checked out.”
We worked peacefully for about seven or eight minutes while George continued banging his fist against the window in the door. I was unconcerned, because the safety glass was strong and reinforced with crisscrossed wire to prevent shattering. My trustworthy student did her job of keeping students away from the door (sharpening their pencils for them and making sure nobody got past her to get to the trash can). Then we all heard a resounding crash. George shattered the shatter-proof safety glass and took off down the hall after realizing what he’d done. Another teacher poked his head in the window make sure nobody was harmed and to say he’d seen the whole thing. Shortly thereafter the school day ended, the janitors cleaned up the glass, and at least five teachers filled out incident reports.
The next day, the principal appeared in my room eighth period. The principal sat quietly, lips pursed, pen shooting over paper for an un-planned observation of my class. After 5 minutes of observation, an urgent incident elsewhere in the school drew the principal away. The principal looked for any pretext after that (real or invented) to put negative notes in my file. I recognize this as the beginning of an effort to force me out of education. I had already decided by then to leave education, but it still hurt my pride to see the principal persecute me like I had seen several of my colleagues persecuted during the year.
I know the principal went after me because of a recognition of responsibility for causing these extreme events. It would be easier to get rid of me than it would be to address the real cause. So what was the cause? Check out Cause and Effect, Part Two: The Cause.