Friday, October 03, 2008

No Child Left Behind At My School

My colleague Dawn and I were busily working in the lounge the other morning, she at the computer and I at one of the round tables. She was fretting over her attendance, getting ready to make yet another parent phone call. She spun her chair around and fixed me with a frustrated grimace. "So my armed robbery suspect finally shows up after being out three weeks!" she says, aggravated. "I don't know where the hell he's been. Is he in jail? Has he even had his trial, or what? What? What!" she says to me, clearly annoyed now, because I'm laughing.

Yes, laughing. Because I lost it after "my armed robbery suspect." I mean, come on. She led with that. She teaches tenth grade. Quite the attention getter at 8 AM, right?

(Oh, I know. It is a tragedy; it is. But that's life at my school. We all have them: armed robbery suspects, petty thieves, drug dealers, grand theft autos, statutory rapists, B & E's, assault and batteries, gang-bangers, you name it. I've had kids taken out of my class in cuffs. We just don't dwell on it. It's part of our demographic; it goes with the territory. And it's not like they do it in our class. )

Dawn sighed. So did I. She said, "You know, it's like: what on earth are we doing with these kids? I'm teaching pronouns, for God's sake. And he's going to go to jail."

"Well," I said, "I know what you mean. Some of these kids are out there doing God-knows-what, and we're teaching theme and symbolism. It seems ridiculous. But I like to think that we're giving them a view on the world that they wouldn't get anywhere else. A glimpse at something better than just living and surviving. A bit of beauty and perspective. You know? They have such basic, narrow lives."

"You're not kidding, " she said. "Last Friday was sustained silent reading day, so I brought in a bunch of magazines. Some of them tore into them and left them all over the place. So I said, 'Hey! Get back here and clean these up. You're not animals! Do I need to get Cesar Millan in here, or what?' They all said Huh? Who's that? I had to explain who he was. No one had heard of him. NO ONE."

I nodded sympathetically. "They probably thought he was a fashion designer, salad dressing inventor, or at least the guy who got stabbed in Rome."

"Get serious," she said. "Maybe if we were reading Shakespeare's play at the time they would. They had NO IDEAS at all. I'm telling you. NONE."

Today, Dawn and I related this story to another friend of ours, Sue, who has a few years experience on me. "Oh, dear," she said to Dawn, "an armed robbery suspect is nothing. Talk to us when you've had a murderer."

"Oh yeah! That's right!" I said.

"Get out," Dawn said warily. "You guys have not both had a murderer."

Both Sue and I raised our hands. Sadly, we've both had more than one.

But guess who had to get fingerprinted and have an FBI background check--at their own expense--last year due to a new state law? All Ohio teachers. Gotta protect the kids.


  1. This is why I'm not teaching high school.

  2. Once again, my hat's off to you and your colleagues, Nance! Seriously. These situations are the reason why movies on teachers working miracles with troubled students will always be worth watching. Dedicated teachers dealing with impossible situations helping bring students to a better life ... always the desired outcome.

    BTW I've been meaning to tell you ... that bunny does NOT look real. He looks like one of those fake stuffed animals where they've taken real fur and applied it badly. Plus, it looks like he has a glass eye. :-) (I was in Petsmart today in the rabbit food aisle and that reminded me I wanted to say that. LOL)

  3. Nancy9:53 AM


    I grew up in the 1930's and we had some bad kids in my school,too.

    Prohibition,combined with the Depression, made criminals out of many people just trying to survive and feed their family. The kids saw these activities and used to joke that the only good job you could get was being the tail gunner on a beer truck. Or,"We were so poor we thought knives and forks were jewelry".

    But, the behavior of the "bad" kids in our school would be considered pranks today. Nothing really serious.

    The big difference, I think, is that I was in Catholic School and the nuns were very strict and if you misbehaved they simply put you out of school and foisted you off onto the public school system.

    As one of the old comedians used to say about kids living on the Lower East Side of New York. "When they grew up they either became priests or they got the chair." There was no in between.

    I think you have a real job on your hands teaching in a High School these days.The very idea that it was the teachers who had to have an FBI background check is very troubling to me.

    Good luck to you and your fellow teachers....

  4. nancy--the criminals are by far the minority at our school, but they're there. and you're right--once they're kicked out of the local charter schools and catholic schools and have been expelled from contiguous school districts, we have to take them. i was highly insulted that, after 27 years of successful teaching with a clean record, i had to have a background check AND PAY FOR IT MYSELF. made me physically ill.

    shirley--funny you should mention those "mr holland's stand and deliver dangerous minds" movies. most real teachers detest them. they're not a true picture of what most of us do, day by day, week by week, laboring under the crushing pressure of NCLB or unrealistic parents or lazy administrators or relentless testing or restrictive curriculum maps or the fear of being labeled a sexual predator if you put your hand on the shoulder of a kid who suddenly decides he doesn't like you because you won't accept his vocabulary assignment a week late so he starts a rumor on his MySpace page.

    Now, as far as that bunny, it IS real although i see your point. i got it from CuteOverload. There was a whole litter of them.

    mikey--oh, honey. bad guys are everywhere, and do you mean to tell me that you didn't have to have a background check? bet it's coming.

  5. V-Grrrl11:10 AM

    Trying to decide who does more damage to teacher morale: the student criminals or the neurotic helicopter parents.

  6. I had to have a background check when I was "promoted" to a Supervisor at work, but I guess that makes sense!

    The kids my mom is teaching now are middle school with the same type of terrible problems. She's already had to fight some kid saying that she hit him and parents who tell her that they believe their brat and not her. UGH. And the parent phone calls...eep. The stories she tells me leave me in utter disbelief.

  7. I had to be fingerprinted and drug tested and background checked for three different jobs now, with no contact with children at all. It's crazy. But at least I didn't have to pay for it.

    I think the day to day pronouns and literary theory is indeed a new world for many of these kids, and I'm so glad that there are people there willing to share that world with children who would be lost without it. Is it enough to save them? Often, no. But you know, enough times I've heard stories from some celebrity or another, saying, "I was on the path to trouble, real trouble, and I had a teacher who taught me such and such or so and so, and it made me realize there was more to the world..."

    I'm thankful for that. I'm also thankful for the many amazing, truly amazing teachers I had in my public high school, who would work to open our minds and teach us about the world. Even though I had a teacher for a mom, had a good life at home, somehow getting it at school can be pretty awesome.

    I had no idea who that Caesar guy was either. Still love me?

  8. There is a pretty intense background check to be a Girl Scout leader now. I said, "Hey! I've been fingerprinted,checked out, approved and licensed by the Great State of Ohio. Isn't that enough for you?" Sorry, they said. We've got to check you out ourselves. Well go for it. At least I didn't have to pay for this one.

  9. I totally understand why you’d detest those movies, Nance. Even from teaching elementary school for 7 years (long ago), I know that most people have no idea what goes into teaching. The expectations have increased exponentially since then and the concerns for high school teachers have gotten far worse. I guess the draw of the movies is the demonstration that dedicated teachers do make huge impacts on their students’ lives. I left teaching for some of the reasons cited here: clueless administration, difficult parents, and hours and hours of work each week. It was the right decision at the time, but I will always miss working with the students. Again, I greatly respect and appreciate your and your fellow teachers’ work.

    Dustbunny and my son's chinchilla would be an interesting pair. :-) The chinchilla is darker gray, but they look to be about the same size.

  10. shirley--my hat is off to the elem. teachers. that's teaching AND custodial parenting: wiping noses, buttoning coats, settling fights, dealing with potty accidents, PLUS teaching all major core courses. forget it! i don't have the personality for that unless it's my own kids. re: dustbunny: it's such a baby that it looks more like a guinea pig! (and I had a string of those at one point.)

    j.--i imagine, esp. since you do overnights. seems silly that they can't hook into the State's and FBI's database and save themselves the cost and trouble. but, not your problem OR dough!

    j.@jj.--i realize that it isn't always WHAT we teach them, but HOW and WHO we are when we do it. so many of our kids are what I call "on the bubble." they could go either way--be a bad kid or a good kid, and we never know what might grab them or interest them and keep them from skipping that day and getting into real trouble. so i bring my A Game every single day--or try to. i think all English teachers are a little nuts--all mine were, anyway, and we really teach LIFE. since we teach literature and writing and speaking, we cover everything. my kids are convinced that I know something about EVERYTHING, and because i teach books, well, dammit, it seems like i do. that and the fact that i'm just a reading and news junkie. so, to get back to the point (really, there was one), maybe it isn't pronouns or The Great Gatsby that keeps them on the straight and narrow, it might just be feeling good in my room.

    and as far as Cesar Millan, yes, i still love you. but you'd think that in a room of 28 kids, SOMEONE would have known or at least had a guess at his identity. they all just sat there with nothing to offer.

    jenomena--it's relentless, i know. i hope your mom has a good administration and remind her to USE HER UNION EFFECTIVELY. that's what her dues are buying her.

    v-grrrl--it's about even, really.

  11. Too bad they don't do a background check on all student before they can attend school.

  12. Anonymous12:48 AM


    Just so you have something to look forward to, over at prospect elementary we are breeding future murderers. Two weeks ago a second grader brought a knife to class, not just a little one, not a paring knife, not a steak knife, but a knife,knife. The sad thing is, this child is one of the "newbies" from one the "other" schools, or as me and some other mothers call them, the imports. Last year my son was punched at school, and the mother of that child had the nerve to call me horrible, racial names when she ran into me at a parent-teacher conf, because her son has issues and hat the "f" is wrong with me for raising such a little pu**y, she asks. OH, I cannot begin to imagine what you must go through.
    But alas, remember there is hope for all those gang-bangers, and uninterested ones that sit through your class , they may one day offer hope and promise on their own television show on the food network.....

  13. halley--i can only imagine the culture shock now that the two closd buildings are being absorbed into other established--and very different--schools. it will be a transition. re: the food network celebs--you sound like my son jared. he is continually irked at the people who screw up and then get rewarded on tv shows, a la Dr. Phil. "we're sorry that you filed for bankruptcy and are a drug addict and flunked out of beauty school, so we arranged to pay off your house, buy you a car and pay your tuition at Harvard! now go to the rehab camp we paid for and get clean so you can enjoy it!"

    a.l.--my point exactly. no one even tells us half the time what these kids' records are. they have all the rights and we are in the dark. teacher safety is NEVER EVEN DISCUSSED. EVER.

  14. My sister teaches 5th grade in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Orange County. A week or so ago, there was a fatal gang related shooting about two blocks from her campus at about 3:10, and even though there were tons of kids in the after school program, nobody even called the campus to let them know there were killers with guns on the loose.


    But my sister can already tell who is going to wind up with a criminal record, even in 5th.

  15. I left a comment here a couple of days ago...did I get deleted for using the "f" word :)

  16. nina--it must not have been recorded; i don't moderate comments, so you probably just didn't do the CV correctly and it didn't get saved.

    gina--how sad. and i hope that the 5th graders' paths aren't that set in stone that early, really.

  17. Nance I remember it like it was yesterday when I was back at your wonderful school and someone I knew very well had committed a murder...yes, you guys have had it all there!


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