“what do you know about students?”

When I interviewed for the position I now hold, I found myself sitting across a table from the principal and three assistant principals, faced with this question.  After a nearly hour-long conversation on topics ranging from social studies curriculum to discipline philosophy, I thought for a moment before giving my answer.

“I know they’re precious,” I said with a smile.

That received a laugh.  Phew.

“I also know that school is the last thing on their minds, which is why my job as a teacher is sometimes the last thing I do.”

I was reminded of that sentiment on Thursday.

It started out so well.  I got up early, washed my hair, put on nice clothes, and prepared for the day which included an extra-special activity for my mock trial class.  They loved it, I loved it, and I even had time to put the “Do Now” activity on the screen for my 1st Core as I did hall duty.

At approximately 9:05, my students were entering the classroom and reading their instructions on the screen.  As I greeted several students at the door, I heard a loud noise inside my classroom.  I turned around just in time to see one male student throw his notebook on the ground as the other ferociously unzipped his jacket.  I stepped in right as the angry notebook thrower invited the other student to “take it outside”.  The student who was now without a jacket said, “you really don’t wanna do that”.  They pushed each other.  One girl screamed.  I stepped in the middle, seperated them, and put them in the hallway in separate corners.  I yelled for another teacher to get the administrator, and the incident was over in a matter of seconds.  I walked them up the hallway, emailed my account of the incident, and greeted my class who I thanked for being on task. 

After class, another teacher asked if I was ok.  I laughed.  “I’m fine, why?”

“The fight!” she said. 

I was dumbfounded.  Was that a fight?  Two 13 year old boys pushed each other.  End of story.  I told her as tactfully as possible that I spent the last several years at a high school with gangs who fought at school.  A lot.  This was nothing. 

When I came home that evening, I had some online notifications about my old school, and I was disturbed to read some accounts of a fight they had the same day.  This was a real fight, between bigger boys about bigger issues.  This fight was about gangs and race.  It was at school and it disrupted the school day.  People were hurt, though thankfully everyone is ok.  Some of these students were arrested because of this fight, and I taught some of them in past years.

I thought and felt a lot of things when I heard about the “riot” at my old school, as some are calling it.  I thought about my (former) students and colleagues, and the community around the school.  The hardest thing after a fight like this is battling the negative publicity that undoubtedly follows.  Schools, administrators and teachers can do everything in their power to prevent things like this from happening, but we forget that students are also people who bring with them their own unique set of issues and conflicts.  It is unfair to ask the school to solve and prevent conflicts that begin elsewhere, but we do it every day. 

That’s what I know about students.  I would love to sit down with a parent or two and ask, “what do you know about raising children?”

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