Culture War

Although I spent most of my break stressed out about the fact that I would going back into the same quagmire I had left behind, the good news is that I am actually feeling a bit better since return to school than when I left. I guess it would be hard to feel much worse. To be completely honest, I spent a lot of time during break pondering, weighing my options if I decided not to come after the summer, in the event that my life might not improve. Well, I certainly wouldn’t call my first few days back blissful, but for one reason or another, I’m not quite so pessimistic. Maybe it’s the turkey, who knows…

But sadly, the theme of the past few days from my point of view has been the losing battle I am fighting against discipline. It’s only a small comfort to realize lately that although my personal management skills are pretty weak, the problem is much bigger than myself. We are up against some extremely alarming social issues, but I just don’t feel like there’s a systematic plan to manage the insane amount of baggage our students bring into our building.

For instance, I have been cursed out by the same girl for two consecutive days, which is a problem for several reasons. I have made considerable effort to try and mentor this particular girl, despite the fact that she has tremendous distaste for me. She’s one of my most challenging students, and she has the ability to completely destroy a lesson. She’s often extremely volatile, crass, and loud. It’s been a major challenge to socialize her, but we had been making gains lately. The only real strategy to deal with her is to try and contain her by appealing to her very real desire to make something of herself. But when she’s having a bad day, you’re going to have a bad one too.

I probably should have known things were going to go badly when she initiated, at full volume, what was probably one of the most vividly sexually explicit conversations I have ever heard front-and-center in my room. I managed to put an end to it, but the damage was done. From that point on, she wasn’t interested in any directions I had to give. Along with 2 other students, she walked out of my class without permission before being dismissed. When I spoke with her other teacher about holding the 3 of them at the end of the day until I could get them for detention, she informed me that she wasn’t coming to my f***ing detention and that I was a b****-a**. I was shocked, sadly not that those words came out of her mouth, or that I was being cursed at; these are fairly normal things. The shocking part was that she would do something so stupid as to curse me out in front of witnesses, knowing full well what the consequences would be.

Even more shocking was the fact that she back in my classroom the next day. I make an effort not to hold anything against my students, so I talked to her for a couple minutes in the hall to make sure that if she was actually back in school and coming to my class that at least we were on the same page. She clearly wasn’t a big fan of me, but I felt like she understood that she had been out of line the day before, and was ready to change her ways, for the time being at least. Wrong.

During She marched out of my room at some point to go do goodness knows what. When I followed her to get her back into the room, she told me, “Get out my face Mr. Johnson. That’s why you got cussed out yesterday. I’m so f***iing tired of you!”, as if I’m in her way for doing my job by enforcing the rules. This time, I was just disappointed in her. What could possibly have gotten into her to curse me out two days in a row? I wrote her up and had security take her down to the office.

Imagine my surprise to see her back in my classroom, unescorted, 10 minutes later. I would find out later that she was sent up to collect her belongings, but she arrived with no documentation or apparent purposed. Needless to say, this sent the wrong message to the rest of my students, who promptly went ballistic–mind you, this class is composed of our most academically struggling students, and naturally, some of our most challenging to manage.

This time, surely, if this girl wasn’t suspended, I’d at least be seeing her parent for a conference before she returned to my class. Wrong, again. She was back in my classroom again today. We managed to pass the day without any serious behavior issues (well, besides her cursing out her boyfriend in the middle of a quiz). And honestly, I was just happy to see her working hard. Still, what message does this send to the other students, that she can curse me out 2 days in a row without major apparent consequence?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming anyone. The way I can’t even handle my own business, I’m hardly in a position to do so. I’m sure the situation was handled, I’m just not sure exactly how. After all, the girl did come back (this time) at the very least ready coexist with me and get her work done. I’ll take what I can get. I just don’t like where this slippery slope leads.

Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the behavior I’ve been dealing with, just since the beginning of the month. But it’s not really the kids I’m struggling with, it’s the street culture that’s twisted their worldview and the results of years of bad schooling that have left them unprepared for formal education. Sometimes I wonder, even if I did manage to pump these kids full of math, which is far-fetched to begin with, how are some of these children going to survive in the world outside this brutal urban culture, where just one incident, like the ones they witness everyday, could be the end of their shot at better life opportunities? Unless we can achieve some major social changes, only the very cream of the crop–the brightest, shrewdest, and most adaptable–are going to make it. And that scares the heck out of me.

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