Monday, July 26, 2010

School Daze

Long ago, in another life, I thought it would be a good idea to try to make this world a better place. I realize it’s tough to view me as a young, empathetic, go getter with idealized visions of grandeur considering the bitter, cynical rantings you’re used to reading in this space but this dude really did exist.

I used to be a teacher, you see. One of those cool, relate to the kids as only a guy fresh out of college could do. Unfortunately, for me and my sanity, the school I taught at was one of those ‘alternative’ schools. In this case a school that took all the students no other in our city wanted: The truants and trouble makers, the druggies and losers who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit into a regular classroom.

We had the kids even the other troubled kids stayed away from. There were padded rooms in which we would throw those students that were having ‘a bad day’, which usually meant thrown furniture or fists. There were weekly visits from the police checking up on students or walking them into squad cars. There were daily complaints from neighbors not wanting ‘those types of kids’ in their neighborhood.

Every day was a grind. For six loonnnnng years I taught at this school. I was burned out after three and spent the next year going through the motions before deciding on another line of work. I aged in dog years.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I met my current wife when she was hired on to teach the junior high class (no, she wasn’t an emotionally disturbed 15 year old). I had the high school class next door, we would hang out between periods and I would provide the muscle when things got too hot with her kids.

I also learned quite a few life lessons. For example...

- How to break up fights properly: take down the kid that’s losing because he’ll be the angriest.

- How to tell if someone is high on heroin or coke. Hint: the pupils give it away.

- Sports really do help get aggressions out.

- Most kids are just looking for guidance and respect. The way they view those two things can be wildly twisted, though.

- If you want to know why a kid is the way he/she is, just meet the parents.

- I want to do anything other than this for the rest of my life.

And the most important lesson: Teachers make no difference. None.

I know that is a piss poor attitude to have, but I’ve found it sadly true. If you’re teaching in a regular school, there is a good chance your students have a fairly stable family life that is the backbone of their well being. If they don’t have a solid support system, they’ll be shipped to that ‘alternative’ placement where everyone – social workers, police, teachers – will try to salvage some semblance of normalcy for the kid.

But it’s a lost cause. Best case scenario is delaying the inevitable, for when this child leaves his classroom he goes right back to the family and friends that reinforce all the dysfunctional bullshit that’s making them so difficult to manage in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, most of them are decent kids who know nothing else. Home is abuse and drugs and freedom from consequences. They do what they want because nobody is there to tell them otherwise or the ones that are there make their lives so miserable that being in jail or out until 3 am is preferable to being home.

We tried, of course, to help. Some of us actually thinking we had some ‘successful’ students emerge from our program and possibly we did. But those successes had parents backing up our plans and genuinely caring about making their children well adjusted and capable members of society.

The others ended up as expected: in jail, on welfare, or worse.

So far four of my former students have died from various means.

One was stabbed to death after wising off to the wrong guy in a local bar. He was apparently so reviled that the other patrons dragged him out of the bar and dumped him on the sidewalk where he bled to death. Nobody called 911.

One was murdered in prison while serving 10 years for assault and battery from a drug deal gone wrong.

One died of an overdose.

The latest one was just shot to death in her own apartment by Somerville police after she stabbed three officers who were simply asking why she was trying to light her boyfriend’s clothes on fire. She was already well known to the force having been arrested multiple times after kicking and spitting on them. There is some question as to why three male officers couldn’t subdue a petite woman, but if you stab even one officer they have earned the right to put holes in any part of your body. That three different officers suffered wounds means they showed restraint.

I suppose I should feel some sort of sorrow or shock that most of my student’s lives turned out so poorly, but frankly nothing I’ve learned has ever surprised me.

That, my friends, is the depressing part.

Today’s distraction: Some invisible cat pictures to brighten the mood around here. Man, who brought everyone down??


Rob said...

Depressing to the Nth degree dude. So I was happy to actually laugh at the invisible pommel horse.

BeachBum said...

Yeah, sorry about that. Will try to lighten things up next time.