Suspend the Homeless

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Some things are not what they seem to be or should be.
Substitute administrators don’t always have the full story about students with whom they must deal. I substituted as a principal or vice principal at several elementary schools with a majority of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. I learned that knowing a student is in the program is a good indicator for me to look for possible other problems before I acted on the obvious one.

Lunch supervision was generally on the agenda for substitute administrators because they have no continuing managerial duties; they have no authority to make operational or policy decisions. Lunch duty for the most part was watching and reminding students of applicable behavior when they were on the edge of inappropriateness. However physical disputes sometimes broke out without preceding oral outbursts.

I didn’t see the fight start, nor did I hear inappropriate vocabulary until after first blows were struck. A pair of equal size fifth graders were wailing away, sometimes in the air and sometimes on target. By the time I got to them through the wanting to see a fight lunchroom crowd, they were being separated by two para educators, but still wailing away in the air and cursing.

Neither seemed to have any fear of me but stopped shouting and struggling as the two women pulled them farther apart. At my request, the ladies escorted them to the office area.

Witnesses were as hard to find as ice cubes in roaring fire. Students were back at their tables as if the pizza of the day was catered to individual orders.

I interviewed them separately and both had the same basic story – he started it for no reason. Protocol said I should suspend both boys for fighting because they had priors. One had two priors for fighting and the other had just one. Neither would give a reason nor change from, “He started it.”

Progression procedure allowed me to make a third offense suspension of two weeks and the other for one week. But I had an option of one week for the third timer and three days for the second timer. That’s what I did.

I was on the phone with second timer’s parent when third timer’s mother came in to pick him up. She and he were gone before I could excuse myself from the call. A little later, while ensuring the boy had been logged out of school, I overheard two office workers. One said, “I could die for the boots his mother was wearing.”

“Me too,” the other said. “And she dresses like…”

I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation.
I was at the same school when the mother of third timer signed him in after his week away. Again, she was out of the office before I could speak with her. The school secretary who had been busy on his suspension day took me to the side saying, “Wish I’d caught you last week. Before Ms. Xx, (the principal) went on family leave, she’d decided third timer would be on inhouse suspension if another fight occurred. It was in her sub instructions, but you were in for the VP. I couldn’t get an override on your decision from her long-term sub, and even if I did, I couldn’t get a call to his mother. She told me this morning her cell phone was out of minutes until the end of the month.”

I asked, “No home phone?” When this happened nearly everyone had a home phone, and a few had a cell. I continued, “She appeared by her clothing to be well enough off.” I looked toward the two assistants at their desks and said to the secretary, “They said something about her boots last week.”

”The boots are knock-offs. She’s the cleanest homeless person I’ve ever dealt with. They live in a 1960s something Suburban. Don’t feel bad, you had no way of knowing.”

That didn’t help very much how I felt, but I decided to expand my checklist before I suspended another student.



Shop Class IV

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The official name for ‘shop’ was Industrial Arts. At one time IA was called manual training and evolved to manual arts before IA. One semester of the required experience was mechanical drawing. In an earlier post, I said it was one quarter. Oh how memory fades in the octolife1My word for octogenarian..2I also said electricity was part of the shop experience, but it was part of the MD time. I’m not sure why it wasn’t called basic drafting, but I wasn’t there when it was named. Students had to wait for high school to get beyond the basics of drafting.

Our mechanical drawing lessons were very basic as were the school supplied instruments: drawing board, T-square, 45-45-90° and 30-60-90° triangles, compass, dividers, and drafters scales. All drawings were done in pencil.

In my first year of teaching Industrial Arts, one student was repeating all but 7th grade PE and the shop sections of Industrial Arts. He was unofficially enrolled in advanced IA but had failed the first quarter of the required mechanical drawing class.

I found him to be orally articulate, but inept at drawing skills except tracing. His skill with hand and power tools was acceptable, but his written assignments had unclosed words and random gaps in text.

My first thoughts came from his being left-handed and all mechanical drawing instrument illustrations in the book were for right-handers. Even my demonstrations were given that way. However, I did have him use the right edge of the drawing board for his T-square instead of the common left edge.

It didn’t help that the MD class to which he was assigned was all special needs boys, many with behavior problems. I was continuously distracted by antics and since he was quiet, he didn’t get much attention.

When I evaluated his first drawings, I thought he was being purposely inaccurate by drawing things in reverse horizontally, but not vertically. As we started the second quarter, something from the depths of my mind hit me. Dyslexia?

I had a talk with the school nurse and found that he’d never been referred but had been in ‘special needs’ since starting school. She said she would contact his parents for permission to test him.

I devised my own test. I told the class the next assignment was to draw a cut block in reverse, left to right. His reversal put the block in the correct position. The nurse and school counselor followed up, and a year later he was in regular classes.

Shop Class II

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I recall only one boy and one girl being injured during my ten years teaching junior high school shop classes. Both were a result of a safety violation by the student.

Bandsaw lesson:

A blood curdling scream1A phrase often used in horror fiction. over the high level sounds of running machine tools in the woodshop caught my attention. My first look around the shop didn’t tell me from where came the shriek. Seeing no student in obvious distress, I did my ‘everything off’ shout, then asked, “Who screamed?” In the near silence, I went workstation to workstation for a person to person check on each person.

When I approached Stu Dent, an eighth grader but first year shop pupil, he was staring out a window like he often did. I asked if he was ok to which he replied, “I cut my thumb on the bandsaw.”

I determined the wound wasn’t stitch worthy, disinfected it, and put a thumb bandage on it. I asked him to show me how it happened so I could perhaps prevent it from happening again with additional instruction. We went to the bandsaw and I saw the power switch was locked out.2Lockout prevents un-permitted use of power machines. I asked, “Are you sure it was this machine?”

Stu said, “Yes, Mr. B. You said we could get a nasty cut if we touched it with the blade moving. I just wanted to see if the blade was sharp enough to do that when it was off.”

One deep exhale was all I could muster to keep from making an unkind remark about my presumed misuse of his natural mental ability.

Perceptions of the Principal – V
Allison in first grade:
The principal is person who stands outside in the morning and says good morning. After school he just waves at the busses or seems to talk to ladies who are waving their arms or men who are standing stiff like not wanting to hit a lady.
Perceptions of the Principal – VI
Arlie in first grade:
The principal is person who sent me home when I made a pistol out of my lunch pizza and pointed it at boys at my table. She wouldn’t let me eat it. She called my mother and gave it to her. The pizza I mean. Mother gave it to me, the scolding I mean, when she picked me and the pizza gun up early from school.
Perceptions of the Principal – VII
Allison in second grade:
The principal is the person who sits in the office and gives morning announcements. He waves at me when I bring the lunch list to the office. Perceptions of the Principal – VIII
Arlie in second grade:
The principal is the person who sits in the office and gives morning announcements. I see him when I get my tardy slip. My dad says she is in a meeting whenever he calls the school. My dad didn’t want to talk to her when she called during a Blazers game.

All Girl Class II

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The title is All Girl Class II, however this the third in my sub-series relating to my teaching an all-girl eighth-grade English class. Again and yet again, at the expense of making a repeated, recurring statement, as I said two or three times before1Bumping up the word count once more for no specific reason., that experience led to my believing eighth grade girls very are much like seventh graders, ninth graders, or just in between.

It wasn’t very long into the quarter when I was approached during the middle of a lesson. The girl said, “Mr. B., it’s my time. May I be excused to the restroom? And may, … go with me? She has what I need in her locker.”

I gave permission. Then, less than two weeks later, near the end of the class, the same girl approached me with the same request. I knew irregularity wasn’t uncommon for the age and granted the request. And I allowed her companion of choice permission to leave also. I didn’t put two and two together when I learned someone had been smoking in the girls’ restroom during the time they were gone.

Within weeks, it seemed to me that most of the girls assumed or thought they had a way out of the class taught by a naïve male teacher.2Well it wasn’t most, but it seemed to me at the time. Wrong on their part – but I’d not found a way to stop their escape attempts. I’d checked with administration and the school nurse, but was told not allowing was my judgement call, but I should start a coded register of who and when in my grade book.

I gave the documentation plan a month and when the most usual requester made her second of the ensuing month, I gave her a pass to the nurse’s office with the comment loud enough for the few nearby to hear. Trying to not be harsh or sarcastic, I said something like, “I’ve been married for 19 years, was raised with sisters, and have a daughter your age. I’m concerned that you may have a serious medical problem and should see the nurse. She can make a preliminary determination.” I added, “Don’t forget to have her sign the pass to get you back into class.”

Each time I got the request after that, I simply handed the requester a pass to see the nurse. Word got around quickly. Another problem solved.

Perceptions of the Principal – I
Arlie in kindergarten:
The principal is the person you have to see in the office when you kick Allison at recess. She didn’t listen to my side.
Perceptions of the Principal – II
Allison in kindergarten:
The principal is the person my mother called when I said Arlie kicked me at recess. I pulled Arlie’s hair first, but I didn’t tell Mom or the principal.

Of Slugs VI

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Hits or what I’ve called them continues.
Like I said before, girls can pack a wallop too.

I was working at a middle-school as a substitute for one of the two vice-principals and charged with routine student discipline and supervision duties. It had been a slow with zero territorial disputes in the lunchroom or other places. It’s indeed a rare day to have no disruption referrals in a school of nearly 600 students. I had made my last roam the halls observations and was typing my report to the regular VP before going outside for bus duty.

There was shouting from the school counselor area and I rushed there. The regular VP was already there and asked me to take the shouting girl to my workspace so he could find out what was happening without the seventh-grade girl interrupting.

The shouting was about her not willing to give up her cellphone, which was strictly forbidden for students to have in those days. She had claimed to the counselor that she’d tossed it to a friend when escorted by security from her classroom. Men, of course didn’t do girl searches, and she’d vehemently refused to allow the woman counselor to do that.

There’s more to the story than I care to or should tell here, but she broke loose several times and flailed her arms when the VP and I were attempting to escort her to the bus. For those who wonder why two men could not restrain a non-compliant seventh-grade girl, try it some time.

In the aftermath, the school secretary said something like, “boy, she sure laid one on you.”

I felt a blow, but thought it was just from her random flailing. The swelling was evident when I looked in a mirror and touched the spot. The closed-circuit hallway video showed her taking an aimed punch at my face.

There was legal action initiated, and there is a ‘rest of the story’ but not for the public.

Slug stories related to classroom incidents have come to an end, or so I think at this time.

From Iniquities of the Fathers: A story of Illusions and Deceptions:

There were no letters that Levi knew of while they were at Vanport; his mother refused him permission to write to Lillie or Adam. Nearly every time his mother went to the store, she brought back newspapers for him. After he finished reading them and marking in his atlas, Levi stuffed them into cracks in the shed walls to help keep out the cold winds.

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