Danger In The Schools

At my current school we work with at-risk kids who are unpredictable from time to time. They have their outbursts. We deal with those. That's what we've trained for, what our experience has prepared us to handle. We recognize and defuse most situations before kids explode. We are aware of the kids in our classrooms.

One kid I'll call Frank is crazy. Really. He's not right in his mind, needs serious help, and is predictably unpredictable. It's a matter of time before he hurts someone. We've said since he started with us that Frank is beyond our abilities and a danger in the school.

We've let people know. There's a strictly enforced chain of command. We tell our immediate supervisor and then wait. We don't expect much to happen. We know the kid is dangerous, but no one seems to much care.

Today Frank went off. I was down the hall when I heard furniture tumble. The desks here are heavy. When one goes flying, it resounds through the building. When two or three fly, I get down the hall fast to see if I can help.

I met Frank on his way out of the room. Behind him I heard shouting and maybe crying. He began to make his way up the hall, but I turned him around suggesting he'd be better outside where he can't do any real harm to anyone but maybe himself. He kicked the doors open hard enough I thought one broke, then punched the mailbox outside the door. I stood so he was encouraged to walk to the right away from school. Our parking lot is to the left and I wanted him far from our cars. I drove Dad's '72 Chevy pickup to work. No way is Frank messing with that.

Frank walked away. I let him. The last thing we want is him back in the building. I wasn't worried about him out in the tame village in which our school resides. He could walk and blow off steam. If he wandered too far, the police, who work well with our kids, would help him find his way.

Watching him walk, I wondered if Frank would be back in class tomorrow. Probably not. I figured he'd get a day or two suspension. But he won't be removed from our program. I couldn't have said that for sure then because I can't see into the future, but I can damn sure see into the past, rememberoing how this has gone almost every other time.

The teacher in that room is a tiny woman long past retirement age. In that class of ten kids there are four different grade levels, at least four different subjects, and ten different sets of challenges and baggage. It's more than any teacher can manage and still effect real learning. We do the best we can. We work hard. But we're up against it. Then add in an unstable, dangerous kid. I mean, come on.

Frank is a symptom of a systemic problem in the organization's culture. I got Frank out the door and we worked to restore order and calm. We talked with the kids. We closed the blinds so Frank wouldn't put on a show from outside. There's little we can do for or about Frank. There's even less we can do about the broken system in which we try to work.

There are a lot of reasons I'm leaving this school. Danger is just one of them. It's a big one, but remember, it's just a symptom of the real problem, the one driving a lot of us out of the classroom. It's enough to make us all want to flip the furniture, punch the doors, and go a little crazy. That or just quit.