You Have My Word

Less than one minute. That’s how long it took for a potent mix of anger and sadness to envelop me. What caused this you may be wondering? I was watching the documentary, Bully (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1682181/)

Courtesy of Flickr.com

Courtesy of Flickr.com

Among the memorable images of the movie were:

–the red rimmed eyes of a grieving father

–the helplessness of a mother whose son is being bullied,

–a child declaring, “ Pretty much a good day for me would be people leaving their hands off of me.”

According to Bullyfree.com, bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior that is intentional, hurtful, (physical and psychological), and/or threatening and persistent (repeated). There is an imbalance of strength (power and dominance).”

While the majority of bullying takes place in the hallways, lunchrooms, school buses, and play areas, it also occurs in the classroom.

As a high school English teacher in an inner city school in Brooklyn, I have witnessed teasing that has crossed the line into bullying. I strove to combat it. I did not always succeed.

“Kerwin” (made up name) was a child in my classed. Kerwin was overweight. He did not dress fashionably and was very quiet. He was a capable student. However, his absenteeism negatively affected his grades and the amount he was able to learn.

Kerwin was part of a challenging class that included some unruly students. Days would go by,and Kerwin was left to his quiet self. However, the teasing could start at any time. And it got personal – faggot, pussy, piece of shit, and more. I called the parents, talked to the deans, and gave the class and the offending individuals lectures on respect.

I’d like to think I did everything I could to stop the bullying. I’d like to think that if I were Kerwin’s parents, I would have been appreciative of the teacher’s efforts. But I’m not sure.

I’m not sure because I’ve also been the parent. My older son has been bullied – he was hit and harassed on the school bus and at recess. My wife and I addressed this issue in multiple ways. We talked to members of the school administration, contacted the family of the child who was bullying our son, and gave our son instructions on how to handle the situation. Despite all this, the situation was ultimately out of our hands. We were helpless and had to rely on others to watch out for our son. It was a sickening feeling.

I don’t like feeling helpless – I’m the kind of person who always wants to think there is some action I can take to make things better. When kids are in school, the only concern they should have is how to achieve their potential. They should not be worried about making it through a day without being pushed, prodded, beaten, or worse.

Doctors have the Hippocratic oath where they promise – among other things – to treat the ill to the best of their ability. Policemen take an oath as well.

I believe it is time to create an oath for educators. As part of that oath, we will promise to do our best to teach your child. We also will watch out for your child so that he or she will feel safe wherever they are in school.

Let me be the first to pledge. You have my word.

Now it’s your turn. What will you do to make it stop?

Incomplete

Incomplete. There is work to be done. Where are you going? The job isn’t finished!
Are you the type who hates leaving things in the middle? The job can’t wait. The chore must be completed.
For a long time, I have been the “I’ll take a break when the work is done” sort of person. I could count on one hand the amount of books I started but did not complete. I took my lunch as late as possible because I did not feel comfortable eating when there was work to be done.
Break – who needs a break? I took pride in this. I puffed my chest out – I am productive. I fully believed that this is what adults were supposed to do. If you acted differently, you were soft or just were not fortunate enough to have my constitution.
If you have the junior Freud in you, ….

THIS IS PART OF A GUEST POST, to read the rest of INCOMPLETE, follow the hyperlink:  Madhouse Guest Post

Go Ahead: Dunk-a-Teacher

My Elementary School.

My Elementary School.

Ten cents will get you a hotdog or a hamburger! You heard me right. No, I have not gone into the culinary business.

A vivid memory I have from elementary school (Joseph J. Greenberg – in Northeast Philadelphia) was the annual June Fair. It was the best day of the school year. I emailed my oldest friend MG to ask him about his memories of the June Fair. Firstly, he said “I used to look forward to the June Fair all year long.”

Like me however, one of his vivid memories of the fair is that at the end of the day, the burgers and hot dogs would go on sale. He and I did our utmost to make sure no food was wasted. I remember saving my money till the end knowing this sale was coming while MG remembers downing six burgers, never happier that our bus was one of the last ones to leave the school.

Now of course, it was not only about food, there were different stations, carnival type games, a jumper, etc. It was always a drag going back into class when the bell signaled recess had ended. I got in trouble every year pretending I did not hear the bell.

I bring this memory up as it came to mind recently. This year, the school I work at had its first ever field day.  They had various sporting activities, an obstacle course, dancing/DJ, and a dunk tank. There were no classes that day, and each staff member had to volunteer or be assigned to assist in some way.

Guess who volunteered for the dunk tank? Well, I was encouraged, but it did not take much. It would be my revenge. I would be rude and disrespectful and suffer few consequences. Revenge was going to be sweet.

Here are some of my favorite quips:

You are even worse at this than writing essays.

I could have brought a book up here.

No wonder the softball team didn’t make the playoffs

I know why you can’t throw straight – you’re from Jamaica. Go play soccer.

We all laughed. I laughed when they sunk me, and the students laughed at the comments.

When I got out of the tank, I wandered around and talked to students and watched others participate in the various activities. I noticed something: there were smiles everywhere.

Students lined up awaiting their chance to drop me.

Students lined up awaiting their chance to drop me.

Locked in and ready. Go ahead - make my day!

Locked in and ready. Go ahead – make my day!

 

 

 

 

 

I think one day long after the students graduate, they will look back on high school and recall Field Day as one of those cherished memories. Now, I need to make my way back to the June Fair. I could go for a 10-cent hot dog.

BR comes to work and is ready to teach my class. No, we don't have a smartboard in my classroom.

BR comes to work and is ready to teach my class. No, we don’t have a smartboard in my classroom.

12th graders happy to be done with high school.

12th graders happy to be done with high school.

Goodbye Colleagues

 

Courtesy of Google.

Courtesy of Google.

A lame joke: What are the two best things about being a teacher?

July and August.

I don’t know who made that joke, but I would bet he or she was a burnt out teacher.

Don’t get me wrong. Every teacher I know circles the final day of the school year on their calendar either mentally or physically.

I certainly am guilty of this though I can just see my mom wagging her finger in front of me saying stop rushing the time away.

Despite this warning, I was counting up the school days in September anxious to get to 180. I said it was in solidarity with my nephew who was anxious to complete his senior year (he graduated the other day – congratulations DS), but it was not 100% true. I wanted summer and freedom. Well, I lost count around day 30.  I restarted when there were 30 days left.

Yesterday was the last day of regular instruction for my students.

And I felt a tinge of sadness and nostalgia when I said goodbye to my seniors (not so much with the sophomores). I always feel this to an extent but yesterday was more so. I took a picture with them, made a farewell speech, and they clapped.

Maybe, the nostalgia was due to having the entire class (save for two changes) since September where normally we switch up at the end of January. We bonded. Maybe, it was the trip a bunch of us took a few weeks ago to see the Jackie Robinson biopic (http://larrydbernstein.com/a-real-hero/).

Yes, it’s natural to bond with the students and that is a quality of a good teacher. However, I don’t want to feel too connected. Don’t scratch your heads. Let me explain.

You all have colleagues whom you see on a regular basis. Well sometimes those colleagues enter a different realm.  He/she becomes someone you have lunch with or you talk about last night’s game or laugh about a movie you both saw. This someone is no longer merely a colleague but is a friend.

My students are my colleagues.  I see them every day. We talk, laugh, and learn (I hope).  Yet, I cannot be friends with them – that is inappropriate and a bit odd. I certainly care about them and wish them well.

During my first year of teaching, I was consumed with the profession. I would talk about my challenges and the students all the time. Every conversation came around to teaching. It was consuming. I realized then, with the help of some more veteran colleagues and friends who were in the profession, that if I wanted to stay in the job, I would have to allow myself some distance.

It was sage advice. Each year I have gotten better at separating life and work. This separation makes me a better teacher, father, and husband. I still think about the students and lessons but now, I am not consumed by the thought of work.

It’s not always easy. I remember my 5th year of teaching. The first class I worked with as freshmen (and taught many of them in their later years) were no longer in the building. I was walking the halls and looking for Nicole, Wesley, Diana, etc. even though they had graduated the past June. It was a tough transition.

So, I miss my students. I wish them well as they move on. Next year, I will have a whole new set of colleagues. Bring them on. First, I will enjoy July and August.

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google