Signs In The Schools

A teacher in our program gave me a sign to hang in my room. Not a good teacher. Not one with whom I have a lot of contact. Mostly I stay away. Sometimes I play like bad teaching is contagious and that helps me keep my distance. She came to my room with a sign saying something like, no kids in the hall ten minutes prior to dismissal. I read the sign and then handed it back to the teacher. "I can't hang this in my room," I said. She said we have to. I circled a mid-sentence word on the sign that was capitalized for no reason and added a carat where another word was missing. "Did you make this?" I asked. She said it was another person on staff.

That other staff member hates when I correct her writing, but if she wants the sign hung, that's the price she has to pay. I explained the typos without fanfare. I've been down this particular road too often with her. On the way back to my classroom I thought about signs and messages.

There are ways to go about running a school such as the one at which I'm currently, but not for much longer, employed. I have my ideas and some colleagues agree with me. Others don't. They make signs that, despite typographic errors, five the stern message that students better behave or else.

In my class we are watching The Green Mile. There's a bit of dialogue I could have written about teaching school:

...our job is talking, not yelling. You'd do better to think of this place like an intensive care ward.

We have had some trouble around dismissal time. A few kids get out of class and cause some bother in the halls. Bother. I can't call it trouble. I keep my door closed and stand with my back against it talking with the kids or just listening as we wait for dismissal. I try to smile.

Now consider what I'm doing. The door swings into the room to open. To go out, a kid would have to pull me out of the way. They're unlikely to do that. This is my kind of sign. It feels gentle. There's an understanding I pass on by standing there. Some kids know what I'm doing and nod at it. Those who don't know at least see that we all stay in the room until dismissal. That's good enough.

I suppose I'll have to hang the sign once it's rewritten. I won't like it and I won't use it. The tone of the thing is too angry. That sign yells at the kids. Me, I'd prefer to talk with them. It's how I would want to be treated.

Vaping In The Schools

The boys' bathroom smells fruity and sweet. Someone's been vaping in there. Again. Vaping is all the rage these days in schools. It's not quite smoking, so it feels like something schools can't ban. It's also fashionable, cool, and for many kids an irresistible urge. They have the vape pen in their pocket. There's a bathroom with a closed door. Why not take a hit?

I'm the same way with Doritos. I can't blame them.

A couple of my colleagues are up in arms about this "problem." Kids are getting away with something they shouldn't be doing! I nod, but when someone asks, how do we stop them? I shrug and walk away. I just don't care very much. There are people at my school and in my school system who think I should care as much as they do, but really, what's the big deal?

My high school had a smoking area, the fearsome and cold back hall. Kids also smoked in the student parking lot, behind the water tower, and wherever else they wouldn't be seen. Teachers used to smoke at school too, but they got to do it in the offices.

In my first years teaching kids were very protective of two-liter soda bottles they carried. An experienced teacher let me in on the secret that most of the bottles were half soda, half alcohol. Some of the bottles were 100% soda but those kids just wanted to be cool.

There always been smoking (and drinking, and making out, and conceiving children, and...) in the bathroom. Kid get high before, during, and after school. Two sisters arrived at our school stinking so badly of weed we put them in an office with the windows open and the door shut. I pity the person who sat there with them.

The kids I teach lead tough lives. If vaping is the worst they do, I've got no complaints. Of course it's not the worst they do, it's just one rule they break.

Kids break rules. Kids have always broken rules. If we can't learn that, we're idiots.

A guy who ran a school in Providence said, don't write down any rules. Once you do, you can't take them back. It wasn't a place in which anything goes, but instead of rules he wanted us to follow the kids' needs.

At home, my wife and I don't have any rules for our kids that I can think of. Instead we know our daughters and they know us. We established what does and doesn't fly soon as they were born. So far, no vaping in the bathroom.

I've been by the bathroom three times today. The first time it had been vaped. Cherry. The second time it was just the usual dirty, pissy smell. During lunch someone else went in and puffed away. Was that lemon-lime? Whatever. I can't get worked up about it. If I talk to kids about it at all, I'll intentionally sound bored by the whole thing. By next October they'll have moved onto some other damn thing about which people will want to make more rules.

A colleague talked to me about all this today. I smiled. What? she asked. I said it could be worse and recalled an eighth grader we had a few years ago who came out of the bathroom giggling. Was he smoking? she asked. No. He took a dump on the floor and smeared it on the walls.

But you're right, I said. We've got to do something about the vaping.