Horror Story

From the Dept. of Things Could Be Worse comes a story of a co-worker and fellow Teaching Fellow at my school... My friend teaches a third grade bilingual class. Like me she's a first year Teaching Fellow. A couple of weeks a new student was brought into her class. As a bilingual teacher most of her students are very recent immigrants. This young boy had just arrived from Colombia.

As it turns out the boy was a street kid. Dad was murdered and Mom OD'ed. He went through several foster homes, but never found a permanent place to live. Finally he was adopted by a teacher who teaches at a middle school nearby our elementary school. As you can imagine any child orphaned and living on the streets of Colombia might have, the boy has some serious issues. These aren't made any easier by the abrupt transition into life here.

The boy's life has been defined by tragedy, and I have no shortage of sympathy for him. Meanwhile, however he's making life a living hell for my colleague. He threatens to kill his teacher, his classmates and/or himself on a very regular basis. He has been "suspended" (spending the day in another room or the AP's office) several times in a few short weeks. Security had to be called when he refused to leave the closet and stop banging his head against the wall. Yesterday he actually strangled a classmate. He was back in class today apparently without repercussions.

It should be clear from all this that the student needs serious psychological support. Support he is not getting at our school. My colleague meanwhile is being pushed to the brink. She is frustrated with her situation, especially since the boy isn't from our district, but is only allowed to attend our school as a favor to his mother since she teaches nearby. I'm doing my best to give advice and support to my friend, but I'm finding it difficult to put a positive spin on what seems to be a nightmare with no end in sight. Ever find yourself wondering about the high turnover rate amongst first year teachers in NYC? Might have something to do with the fact that so many administrations put their new teachers in horribly untenable situations.

Comments

hatdog said…
I'd really like to know what the middle school teacher who adopted the boy has to say about his actions. What is she doing, and what does she want to be done?

I'm seeing similar, though not as extreme, problems at my school. I had two students placed on "in-school suspension" earlier this year for fighting in the yard - I was not on the yard at the time, and so was not involved in the "resolution" process. I still called both of their parents to discuss what happened, only to be completely embarrassed to find that no one who was involved bothered to call home! The "suspension" was not official - in fact when they showed up the next day no arrangements had been made, and the supposed suspensions devolved into not being allowed out for recess.

This obviously pales in comparison to what's happening with your colleague's situation - but I think the root of the problems are the same. No one wants to deal with it. Suspensions "look bad" and principals certainly don't want that. In my case, no one had the responsibility of calling their parents, and the parents of both boys have reputations for being even more difficult than their kids - since no one "had to" call, no one did. Except me. I have reasonably good relationships with the parents of both, and they were GLAD that I called them; they even sympathized with me over the total lack of communication and cooperation at my school!

The other 4th grade teacher at my school has a boy in her class with a history of behavior problems in school, and a severely dysfunctional family. He'd already been suspended twice this year - real, official suspensions with all the paperwork - most recently three weeks ago he was suspended for a week. His father's main comment was "What am I supposed to do with him all week?" This past Thursday, my colleague was trying to get the students dismissed, he was taking forever to put something in his backpack and she touched him on his shoulder from behind while asking him to "please hurry up." He smashed her in the jaw with his elbow, giving her a nice bruise but thankfully no permanent damage (not counting psychological repercussions). I don't know what's going to happen next, I do know that a police report was filed and neither the boy nor my colleague were at school yesterday.

What I do not understand, and no one has been able to explain to me, is why aren't students like this placed in SED classes? (Severely Emotionally Disturbed) What does a child have to do to get some help? Do we really have to wait until bones are broken or blood is spilled? What was that week-long suspension supposed to accomplish, other than getting him out of our hair for a few days? There's no requirement that anything change over that week, just that he get a week off of school. I can't really go into his history, but I can say that my colleagues and I discussed on more than one occasion our fears that he'd be allowed to go on until he assaulted her, and we were right.

It seems to me that none of this will change until teachers AND parents start calling bullshit on policies that allow disruptive and often dangerous students to remain in the classroom. "Least restrictive environments" are nice in theory, but they can also ruin an entire class when the support to keep these students in that environment is not there. Parents need to tune in to what is going on in their kids' schools and demand better - not from the teachers, but from the system, and teachers need to stop taking so much crap from virtually everyone. There is no visible union activity at my school because all the teachers are afraid of the principal. As long as they won't stand up for themselves, who can be expected to stand up for them?

*sigh* It's complicated. And I have report cards to do...
Hugh O'Donnell said…
Like hatdog says, what's up with the foster mom?

And I totally agree on hatdog's point:

"It seems to me that none of this will change until teachers AND parents start calling bullshit on policies that allow disruptive and often dangerous students to remain in the classroom. 'Least restrictive environments' are nice in theory, but they can also ruin an entire class when the support to keep these students in that environment is not there."

Since you said it all for me, hatdog, and I am retired from the classroom with no report cards to grade, I'm just gonna finish off the weekend with a cold beer. ;)

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