Friday, April 29, 2011

Class From Hell

As a teacher, I recall having a few difficult classes, but one year I had a class that stands out as the most difficult in all my years of teaching.

I knew things were not going to go well when the Board of Trustees, who governed the school district in which I taught, decided to close the neighborhood school where I was teaching sixth grade. 

This meant that the children who filled the school would now be dispersed to several other district schools, causing the need to purchase buses to transport the children, portable classrooms to be purchased and moved, and the interviewing and moving of over one hundred district employees. 

What the board members were thinking, we'll never know.  School boards have the final word on all of the mechanics of running a school district.  Since very few of them are actually educators, they make their decisions based on, well?  Who knows?  But this is a "Whole 'Nother" story, as people say.

I, along with the rest of my displaced colleagues, found myself interviewing at the other schools in the district and packing my classroom items into boxes, while the teachers in the receiving schools were gathered in meetings to decide where to place the incoming students.

A phenomenon occurs when a class list is compiled for an, as yet, unknown teacher.  It is sort of a cherry picking process with the on site teacher saying things like, "Don't put this kid in my class." or "I want this little sweetie in my class."  This ends up with the new teacher on the block left with a class full of Trouble. With a capital T.

Looking back over my career I now realize that several of my all-time favorite students were in this class-from-hell, but together they were an intractable wild bunch.

They were needy.  Four of them were dealing with the fact that their mothers had left the family.  Four runaway moms!  In one classroom!  This had never been the case for me before. (Or never was again!)
Three more were living with their father and a step-mother-figure, but the mother was at least available.   (One of these available mothers drove her car through the front of my student's home during the year.)  Oh, yeah.  They were needy, all right.

There were three meek and rather "different" students in the class, who were picked on and tormented by the others.  No matter how many of my famous, "You must be kind to one another" sermons I gave them, what seating arrangements I worked out, and awards and consequences plans I used, the torture continued.  I wished for the discipline gurus from School Teacher School to come and try their "fool proof" discipline plans on this group.

Some of the children were withdrawn and showed signs of abuse and neglect. I spent a lot of time with the Child Protective Services that year.

One little street smart dude told me he didn't get his homework because he had to go with his mother to the hospital because she was sick.  Actually, his mother was in jail.

A sweet little girl told me that her stepfather dragged her mother across the living room floor the night before. I got her the phone number for a safe house for abused women and children, and never saw her again.  That doesn't mean I stopped worrying about her.

I finally decided to do two things. 

The first was to let them know that even though their home life was difficult, I would do my best to show them that there were careers out there waiting for them that would lift them out of the chaos. I invited people in various service occupations to come and talk to the kids about their respective jobs.

The second one was to keep them very, very busy and, I hoped, too tired to act out in class.
I led them in aerobic exercise four times a week in the multipurpose room to work some of the aggression out of them and at the same time raise their self esteem, as only vigorous exercise can do.  I told them I was preparing them for Outdoor Science Camp hikes in the mountains. 

In connection with my "Careers Plan" I invited my sister and a friend who were both aerobics instructors at a local gym, to come and take them through a vigorous workout.

At my insistence they wrote letters to the girls to thank them for coming to talk to them about their job.  Some of the letters were pretty funny. Coming next; excerpts from those letters. Stay tuned.