My Ever Shrinking Class

Prelude: I’ve sat on this post for a day, wondering if I even wanted to publish it. It makes me sad, kind of. But it is the truth, and I believe in telling the truth, so here it is.

Oh my, it’s happened again. My seventh grade class has lost another student today. I’m sorry to lose him.  I like this boy, and he left because he was afraid for his safety. Someone at school had threatened to shoot him.  I feel terrible about that. This past week safety issues have burgeoned at our school, and we are madly trying to deal with it.  I say ‘we’ even though I am not an administrator, so am not the one to actually deal with meting out consequences. Our school has felt safe and even kind to me this year until recently. I know I have a really difficult situation in my classroom, but I thought it was just my issue, and overall it’s been good at our school.  Or it has been. Recently it all seemed to fall apart. Gang tensions have been escalating, although no overt action apart from whistles and a little posturing have actually taken place. So far.

There was a fight at the beginning of Spring Break in which one of my most difficult students, the one I called Mikey in an earlier post, fought with someone who is a very experienced fighter. Apparently some brass knuckles were involved, and there was a rumor of another weapon, but that has not been corroborated by anyone other than Mikey himself, who is not exactly a reliable witness. For some reason he was not punished for the fight (maybe because it was so unbalanced?), even though he chose to be there and to participate it it.  Apart from him, however,  a mass of suspensions and a few expulsions took place yesterday, which had everyone on edge all day. Some disciplinary actions were related to that fight, and some to other things that have been happening.  The gang task force was on campus at lunchtime, and everyone knew who and who else was in the office. Some kids worried that they would be called in because maybe they had been seen in the video of the fight that was posted on You Tube. They worried that their friends were being expelled, because anytime anyone gets in trouble they assume they’ve been expelled, even though that is actually a rarity.

It seems that the climate in the community has been worsening lately, and our principal is adamant that our school be an oasis of safety, so she did a little housecleaning this week. Smart move, I say. However, this is all so very unsettling for everyone and as problems have escalated at school, they have become obvious in my room in the form of bullying and general rudeness.

Mikey, the student who seems to need to hold the class in his grip has been quietly calling other students names when I am not paying attention to him. “Four Eyes,” “Lloron (crybaby),” purposeful mispronounciation of names and modifying eyes to look Asian are just a few of his recent activities. When I look at him he pretends to not be doing anything out of line, but I feel it.  It underlies everything.

He has a cohort in disruption who has good days and bad days. I call him Sweet Basil.  On good days he is quiet. On the other days he loudly proclaims his boredom, tips over chairs and tables and then pretends that he didn’t do it on purpose, or denies even doing the things I just watched him do. He loves to go along with Mikey in everything he does. Today they were both completely out of line at the same time, and it just hurt to be there.

I see other boys cater to these bullies in an effort to avoid being bullied themselves. They get loud and then turn on each other.  I write referrals on the bullies, and they are out of my class for a couple of days, but then they come back in full force. Changing their seats does no good at all, nor does talking to them or being kinder to them or ignoring them or even chastising them. Calling their parents was never an effective option, although I tried that several times. I hold them accountable, but for what? I am past being frustrated. I used to believe I could effect some sort of change, that I was at fault for not having more control over my classroom, but I no longer feel this way. What I failed to see earlier was what masterful manipulators they are. I saw it as behavior problems rather than the calculated disruption it is.

We have all put forth a great deal of effort this year to make our school a safe and welcoming place for all of our students. A place of caring and responsibility in a troubled community, and I felt we were that, or we were getting there.  Until this week when I suddenly see the seaminess of it all. The nasty little jibes happening in my own classroom that I don’t even see or hear until after the fact are a symptom of what is happening on a larger scale throughout the school.  One day this week a student whistled in class, and I stopped him, saying that was a gang related activity and it wasn’t happening in my room. He didn’t deny it, just stopped doing it.  And I wonder why it feels like I can’t teach anything. Why they don’t seem to want to learn. How can one learn in such a situation?

So as of today I have fifteen students, only that. Three have left in the past month for other places. Another was just expelled.  But with the two remaining bullies, it feels much larger. The problems are magnified with fewer students to absorb their actions. The room feels like a ticking bomb, truly.  What kind of day will it be today? What will be their mood? How will they manipulate us all this time? Will they both last until the end of the school year? On Friday, after assessing their actions of the day, I wrote referrals on both of them, and we will see what comes of that. It is only a matter of time until they go and we are thirteen. And then the school year will end and we will have missed the whole thing.

I have decided to teach eighth grade next year, so I will have all of the same students plus another section that my daughter has this year. The class lists are discouraging. But this time I’ll know who I’m dealing with and won’t waste my time thinking they are other than they are. I will plan for them.  And I bet it’ll be a lot better.


6 thoughts on “My Ever Shrinking Class

  1. jamieayres says:

    This post saddens my heart. My 6th graders in my one low class was out of control this past week . . . guess their 7th grade attitude has arrived with only 22 days left of school. I wrote 2 referrals and signed numerous planners and called the parents. I’m dreading tomorrow. It’s a shame that a few rotten apples spoil the whole bunch, but they do.

    • lynnjake says:

      It’s so true. While I get irritated and mad with those kids, I feel bad for all the other ones who take a backseat to the antics of the dominators. Their learning is suspended while those guys cavort around. Ugh! Seven more weeks!

  2. dogtrax says:

    I read this and needed to come back, to digest the anguish you are feeling, my friend. I can’t give you any words that will ease the tension in your classroom. I’ve had some experiences, too, over the years, where each day seems never to end and when the day does end, all I wanted was a quiet place to decompress. Good luck with the days ahead. I’ve been thinking of you.

  3. dkzody says:

    Oh, such memories of times like this…I’ve always thought your town so much quieter, calmer, less crime-ridden than Fresno. I guess not.

    This past few months I worked in an afterschool program at an elementary school that feeds that large inner-city high school where I spent all those years. I was shocked at the behavior of a couple of SECOND graders and in investigating, I found that the problems stemmed from the fathers, or lack thereof. One boy’s parents divorced this school year and he was not dealing well with it as he is the only boy in a house of girls. Another boy’s father is in prison for killing his mother. I never did find out with whom he lived except that whoever it was had given him permission to attend our afterschool program which is Bible based. Both boys could cause disturbances, but they both needed so much attention.

    Hope the next few weeks remain calm for your classroom. I’m thinking of you, there, with those kids, who so need you.

    • lynnjake says:

      Hi Delaine. It sounds like you’ve dealt with some of my students! It is hard to imagine how anyone could find school interesting when they are dealing with such major things outside of school. Oddly enough, today was quite calm in the testing lab. Not restful, exactly, but certainly not chaotic. For these small favors, I’m grateful.

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