Addition by subtraction

During the first week of February, I wrote about some of the classroom issues I was having in my New Orleans area high school classroom, and had a little scorecard of that week’s statistics.(The entire post can be reviewed here: https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/clear-view-from-the-front-of-the-class/)

What I reported back on February third was:
• 5 kids in/out of in-school suspension
• 1 young man earning 5 days out of school suspension
• 1 young woman transferring to alternative school. Hopefully.
• 6 teen moms/dads with baby and/or baby’s father/mother issues
• 12 sleepers; kids who fall asleep often enough in class that I have to wake them up (I am something of a human alarm clock some days, and my general admonition to awakened students, “If you want to take a nap, get a room at the Days Inn” is not well received.)
• 5 kids who are on daily check in/check out point-system behavioral plans that require daily updates of their written goals. (One girl earned only half of her available points on the one specific goal of ‘refraining from using profanity in classroom: sailors don’t blush in her presence, they check their thesauruses.)

Update!

In the five-plus weeks since then, I can report that the one young woman did transfer to an alternative school, and that while my half-dozen teen moms/dads still have teen mom/dad issues of varying degrees, the two that seemed the most frazzled by those issues have calmed considerably. I can also report that while most of my sleepers still try to sleep, I have refined my ‘wake up’ process to a quick rap of my clipboard on their desk (as close to their ear as possible) as I pass by with minimal interruption to class proceedings. I was down to two check-in/check-out students, but have now moved back up to four who are all on two-week stretches of CICO. (Love those ubiquitous acronyms!)

Oh, and Ms. Potty-mouth got herself expelled for a variety of transgression in and out of my classroom.

Along with two other kids from the same class period.

Oddly, none of the three expelled students had any particular negative interaction with one another, and simply found themselves on their own separate yet parallel paths to departure. Were I a math teacher, I would probably turn that experience into a word problem of some sort: “If three students each depart the classroom by expulsion over a six-day stretch…”

You will probably not be surprised to learn that that particular class period is running much more smoothly than it was a month ago. It aint the autobahn yet, but we’re calling AAA much less frequently.

In talking the numbers game with a fellow teacher at my school, I told her my favorite story of student departures from a classroom of mine. It came from the year I was a sub, and was at an inner-city New Orleans high school I had been at numerous times. This blog note from January, 2010:

“I was standing with another student in the doorway of a classroom of full of ninth graders, discussing that student’s behavior (which was worth bringing him to the doorway to discuss, but wasn’t anything that would have gotten him sent to the office or any such thing – an important note) when one of the school’s assistant principals walked by, and said “Everything O.K., Mr. Lucker?” To which I replied, “Nothing we can’t handle. We have it worked out.” when the student interrupted with his own, somewhat contradictory answer to the A.P’s inquiry: “This man is tryin’ to tell me things!”

The AP stopped, and the following ensued:

AP: (calmly) “Son, Mr. Lucker is your teacher…he is supposed to tell you things.”

STUDENT: “Uh, uhh! He can’t tell me nothing! He aint my teacher…Ms. Russells’ my teacher!”

AP: (more calmly) “Son, please come here.” (Finger motions kid across hall to where he is standing)

STUDENT 2: (Yelling from inside classroom) “You can’t get on him for sayin’ that – he’s right, this man aint our teacher! He can’t tell us nothin’!”

AP: (motions STUDENT 2 into hallway) “Son, come out here please.”

STUDENT 3: “Man, you can’t say nothing about that to them!”

AP: (less calmly) “Boy! Get out here!” (Finger motions student 3 to hallway)

STUDENT 4 (girl) “Oh, mister! You’re wrong for calling them out there. They didn’t do nothing! And Mr. Lucker ain’t our teacher!”

AP: (less calmly but still retaining his cool) “Young lady, please step out here.”

At this point, the assistant principal has four students along the wall across from my classroom, and a security guard at the far end of the hall comes down to investigate. He and I are standing in the doorway as the AP is telling these kids why they should be listening to me, when, out of our peripheral vision, we both see an English textbook go whizzing through the air.

The security guard immediately points at a young man, and says “Grab your things! You are going home!” To which the kid loudly protests: “Why am I going home? I wasn’t throwing that book at him (pointing at me) I was throwing it at HER!” as he points to a girl sitting in the corner, who sits shrugging her shoulders.

As the kid gathers up his belongings, the security guard shakes his head, looks at me, and says “Sometimes they just don’t know when not to say anything”.

Five students gone in one fell, 90 second swoop, and I hadn’t said a word. It is, to date, a personal record. The rest of the class ran pretty smoothly.”

What I didn’t say at the time was that in the aftermath of all that, some other staff at the school was marveling at my ability to clear a classroom of five trouble makers in one fell swoop, especially as a sub, and all I could do was humbly ascribe the events to self-directed learning I had very little to do with.

Fast forward two years, I am back in my own classroom, first year at my school, and I have developed a bit of a reputation for not accepting the status quo with some students.

One day a member of the counseling team stopped me as I was leaving campus to talk about the expulsions, marveling at the way I was able to rid my classroom of two very problematic students (This was a day before the third student got herself booted) and I could again take no real credit for the events, just benefit from them, which is what I told her.

She laughed heartily at my taking advantage of the right place/right time attitude and we went our respective ways, her congratulating me on my ‘getting them gone’ over her shoulder as she went to her car and I went to mine.

I related both stories to my colleague who quietly made this observation: “It’s all because you actually try to engage them in something constructive. A lot of teachers just ignore them until they go too far, then they just kick them out of class. You’re just doing your job.”

Who knew.

We just keep on truckin’. Or teachin’. Or something.

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