October 13, 2009
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.
I had to read this post, think about it and then come back. Like you, I don't find the bomb scare half as disturbing as the beating death of Derrion Albert or the drawing of Hitler worship on homework.
When you read about things like this or a Columbine or Virginia Tech, your hand goes to your mouth in horror as you shake your head in sadness and disbelief.
Are we, the adults; the authority figures partly responsible for the havoc? Are we always honest and up front? Do we stop to consider what might be motivating the disruptive student; are they hurting in some way and so acting out or do we just dismiss their behavior as bratty?
On the street the crimes get more violent and the offenders get younger and younger and sometimes I dispair at what is becoming of this generation.
And then I read a story about a van full of high school jocks who got their coach to turn around on the highway because they saw a guy waving over there. Turns out his SUV had flipped into a canal and his parents and child were under water. Although the grandmother would later die from her injuries, the boys managed to pull all the passangers out of the truck.
And there is a boy around Chicago I think that won a science prize for designing a shelter that was insulated, dry and could be made from discarded items - his motivation was the many homeless he saw sleeping on the streets.
Things are probably not much different than when we were growing up, it was just that our parents generation were the ones asking these questions. It's good to reflect on society and its ills and maybe develop a new approach to how we handle encounters with young people.
Mark Twain once said,"Always tell the truth and you won't have to remember anything." I think we owe it to our young people to not insult their intelligence or betray their trust by always telling them the truth. I think your principal is in the wrong profession.
Posted by: rockync | October 13, 2009 at 04:58 PM
No easy answers, but I will say this: I admire you so much for getting up every day and trying.
Posted by: April McCaffery | October 13, 2009 at 10:49 PM
It takes a village to raise a child, I believe that with all my heart but when mroe people in that village have certain beliefs and spend more time with that child than you ever could, it's hard to make them see the world differently.
Posted by: Jessica | October 13, 2009 at 11:47 PM
You've got me wondering, too. Always a good thing.
But the part of this post that sticks with me is the bit about that young girl nominated for homecoming princess as a joke. How very cruel. What goes on in the minds of those who would do such a thing? What has the world (we) taught these young people for them to think that is an acceptable thing to do?
Posted by: Beth | October 14, 2009 at 09:30 AM
So many points to ponder in this post. I was struck by the swastika. Why? And the beating of Derrion. We watched the news in horror. Why? Why would kids nominate a girl for homecoming just to make fun of her? The worst criminal offenders, I believe, are males aged 18 to 25. The middle school and high school years are critical in determining whether a boy is going to be well adjusted and productive or a social misfit/criminal.
Adults need to communicate with the kids. In fact, I think constant communication between adults and young people is critical. They need to know that they're cared for and they should be told the truth because they're not stupid.
I pity the student who drew the swastika and those hate words because he (I'm assuming it's a boy for some reason) must be growing up in an environment where he's learning to think in such a way, or he's being ignored and left to his own devices.
Keep doing what your doing, caring about your students and their futures.
Posted by: JC | October 15, 2009 at 12:01 AM
rockync, after reading what you and the other commenters wrote, I decided that I need to address the swastika in the room; I spoke to them, these classes full of kids from so many different places, and then I read to them the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:
"Pastor Niemöller spoke for thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something--but then it was too late."
I'm glad that I didn't let the moment go because of my discomfort.
Regarding your comment that we don't look at the reason why kids are acting out, I think that this is something that is changing--I know, after working with a special ed teacher for more than a year, that I have certainly learned how their lack of abilities, especially in writing and reading (which is what I teach), can have a great impact on their attitude and attendance. Still more to go, but it's hard for a teen--or anyone--to show his/her shortcomings for all to see.
April, what can compete against getting a high five from a Pakistani girl? A professor in my conflict studies program told a friend, when he found out that I would be a teacher and not working in the field, thought that it would be a great thing. Now I see how right he was.
Jessica, the hope that so many in education say is that if each of us could reach one kid a year, we should look at that year as a success. Maybe we all should do that--try to touch one child or teen's life a year, in whatever way possible. Perhaps that's the only way we have to counter the negativity surrounding so many kids.
Beth, cruelty is so cruel. I think kids are so afraid to be ostracized for whatever reason that they would prefer to pile-up on someone else, keeping themselves "safe." Do they know what they look like on the inside?
JC, what is just amazing to me is that we have so much diversity at my school and, in class at least, the kids are all the same and don't separate along racial lines. So why, why would someone think that that's a philosophy to respect? Hopefully the student will find something better to think about and draw.
Posted by: Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman | October 17, 2009 at 07:46 AM
I'm glad you addressed them on the swastika drawing - perhaps that powerful speech will touch something in one of them and we will have one less bigot in the world.
When I wrote the previous comment, it was society in general that I was thinking of. While I applaud teachers for their dedication and compassion in trying to help this nation's children reach their potential, I think perhaps it is society itself that is letting these kids down and by extention, letting teachers down also.
Posted by: rockync | October 17, 2009 at 10:47 AM