As these things often go, there were no punches or pulled hair, just the threats, screaming, swearing, and taunting. There was movement to fight, but it required only a teacher standing in front of each kid to keep things at a low boil.
Yesterday, during the math class I don’t know how to teach, I hear screaming in the next room. I excuse myself and go over to see Shirley, a truly crazy girl, screaming across the room at Laverne who is usually reasonable. I know better than to touch Shirley, so I stand in her way saying, “how about we go into the hallway?” She ignores but doesn’t go over me. Small victories.
She’s egging Laverne on. “That bitch can hold you back? Come and get me!” That bitch is the classroom teacher and no way she can hold Laverne back unless Laverne allows it. Shirley throws her water bottle across the room at Laverne and that’s enough. Laverne shucks the teacher and charges. I turn and put my open hands on Laverne’s shoulders knowing that this could all go terribly wrong.
I should feel that my school will represent me if anything bad happens. I’ve got another teacher as a witness. There are other kids here. Still, I know the admins would hang me out to dry. In that moment, I’m sure of it. My clearest thought is that none of this is worth losing my job. I need the money and the health care. I want to quit soon, but not get fired. Two girls are about to brawl and I’m thinking how likely it is I’ll get screwed over. Welcome to my world.
The administrator comes in and takes Shirley by the arm. I talk so only Laverne can hear me say, “let’s get you out of here so you can relax. You won this one.”
She lets me guide her to my classroom. A friend comes along. Laverne paces frantic circles and I ask her friend to give her a hug. Laverne needs human contact that says, “you’re still here.” I used to give those hugs, but those days are gone, so I have her friend do it and that’s good for both of them.
Now I do the work I’m good at. In that building I’m supposed to be a math teacher, a job I’m terrible at. I take a break from that to do what I’m expert at: working with alternative ed kids who need more than the Common Fucking Core. I ask how it began. I let her tell the story. I keep eye contact. I shut up until it’s time to say something. I teach. I help her learn.
I tell what she did well, how she let the other teacher hold her back, how she let me hold her back, how she listened when I told her that we should go, how she’s talking now and working hard. I tell her friend how helpful she is to be listening and not trying to egg it on. I say, “we just went over it without reliving and all three of us are calmer with a little distance and time.”
When the administrator comes in, he’s on the wrong track, and I have to redirected that conversation. I have the girls talk about what they did well. All the while I’m thinking, “he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand this at all.”
I’ve been trained crisis intervention through a good program filled with too many acronyms and terminology. After these events, the staff should formally discuss and debrief. Plans are made to re-enter the kids or exit them. Half an hour after the fight, the school day ended. I talked with another teacher as we waited on bus duty. After the last bus, the administrator came around handing out agendas for the scheduled Project Based Learning meeting that afternoon.
I don’t know if they debriefed the fight or planned what’s next for the kids. I don’t know if they stuck to the wonders of PBL from 1:45 to 2:30. This was about the fourth meeting in two weeks and my contract time is 1:45. Knowing that the work I had done, possibly my best work of the school year so far, would never factor into my performance rating or be valued by the administration, I walked to the parking lot, got in my car, and drove far away wondering what the hell I’m doing there at all.