The other day there was a bomb scare at my school. That means that the entire school body of about 2,200 13- to 18-year-olds and 300 staff members had to evacuate the building as soon as the rather overbearing voice of the principal came over the PA system at about ten in the morning. We were simply told to leave our rooms immediately—we were not told why (I, of course, thought that they were springing a new kind of a drill on us and left all of my things in the room and told the kids to leave their things on the desks—we were in the middle of going over a quiz)—there was no indication of a bomb scare on the PA announcement. The kids were told not to look at their cell phones. (Sounds dumb because it is a dumb thing to say.) In the announcement the teachers were told to read our emails in a tone that seemed to indicate we were amiss for not having read them already. This last comment bothered me, and I said outloud, “I couldn’t read the email because I was busy teaching.” When I checked, I didn’t see an email. It turned out later, in the rumor mill, that the email was being sent as we were leaving the building.
Rumor has it that the amount of time from when the bomb scare was made known until we were evacuated from the building was about twenty to twenty-five minutes, because the principal, who has a virtual presence most of the time, had to be located. Me, in my naïveté, noted (before I heard the rumor) that it was good that he was finally there when he was needed.
In a huddle around the principal about ten minutes after going onto the football field, we were told that there had been a bomb threat and not to tell the kids—only to tell them that the school was being checked and cleared. Okay, so a helicopter is flying over-head (I finally made the connection as to why I had been hearing a helicopter while I was still teaching and not that it was some kind of drill or Obama is in town), the school population is evacuated far from the building with everyone in one area (unlike in a normal fire drill when we are allowed to leave from various exits and could be much closer to the school), and we are not allowed to tell the kids the truth? And what about establishing trust with our students?
A student of mine, who had been in my classroom when we were evacuated, asked me if it was a bomb scare as he had heard. To a colleague’s dismay, I responded, “Well, that’s a good thing to hear.” I know, dumb thing to say, but I didn’t want to say, “No.” I wanted him to realize it was right without saying it. She repeated the party line about the building being checked and then we will be able to go back in. And then, another colleague read aloud from her iPhone the email announcement that had come from the county about a bomb scare—the email that was being sent to parents and anyone on the e-mailing list—while the student stood there. Why and how did they think it would be okay not to just tell the truth to these teens?
We spent an hour and a half in the football field (I got a nice tan—it was, gloriously, an amazingly warm fall day) when the announcement came that we will be able to start letting the students go home, and then we, the teachers, would be able to go home too.
Being the eternal optimist that I am, the truster in the powers that be, and not having a lesson to have learned from, I had left everything, except my student roster and emergency info packet, including the orange emergency teacher vest, in my classroom—which was now off-limits. I got a lift home, then found the spare key in the busy-body neighbor’s apartment. At around three another email announcement was sent that said that the school had been cleared and we could come and get our things. As luck would have it, my parents came in that day to visit, so they drove me back to school to get my pocketbook, cellphone, computer and car.
There was a lovely, relaxed atmosphere around the school. Perhaps it was relief. Perhaps it was the joy of getting most of the day off—for students and teachers. Perhaps it was seeing that nothing bad had happened. Perhaps, too, it was because the students had been so wonderful and calm, with no (observed) inappropriate behavior—we spied what we thought was a spitting contest and one very in love/lust couple who kept inching closer to each other. Besides that I saw a Frisbee game and a round of duck-duck-goose. What a great group of kids. There was no need to babysit them or stand guard over them.
I feel sorry for the obviously damaged person who sent the bomb scare, because his (her) life has irrevocably changed. Rumor also had it that the bomb scare was tied to a football game and an intense school rivalry. Sounds like some kind of patriotism gone bad.
In a totally unrelated event, the other day I found that an unknown student of mine—as in a student who sits in my classroom and who I spend my time trying to reach and teach—drew a large swastika and wrote the words "Heil Hitler" on the back of a handout that I gave out. I kept it for a day, thinking that I would try to discover who did it, but then I decided that I don’t want it or to have to think about and ripped it up and threw it out. I had confronted a few kids and they said that they didn’t do it, that they hadn’t even seen it.
You just wonder.
And then I think about the boy, Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death in Chicago less than two weeks ago. And you wonder how is it that so many kids seem to get the messages they are given about bullying and respecting each other, but there are still those who go as untouched by the onslaught of positive messages. Yes, maybe their home lives are not positive. Maybe they don’t feel that the messages touch them. Perhaps they never felt that anyone cares about them.
And a student was talked to by my co-teacher the other day because he thought that because he is a senior in high school he is allowed to be rude to his teacher—me.
And my daughter’s friend, who was nominated as a homecoming princess—as a joke, what of her? Her "crime" from what I can see is that she is chubby, or rather not skinny.
And you just keep wondering.
What of the children who hear the message, but get derailed by those who don’t?
I’m thinking that I will do a short lesson on hate and respect and self-respect. But will the kid who drew swastika hear me? And will the kid who is so full of disdain for me and “the system” hear me? I guess it doesn’t matter—because I will not let them defeat me—or let them think that they can defeat those of us who care about more than the negativity that swills through them.
Are we giving them mixed messages? When we deny them information, are we respecting? Are they, some of them at least, responding to the mixed messages they receive by responding to the negative messages?
Lots of wondering to do.