A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Some days it is impossible to be a teacher. The ISAT testing ended for my school on Thursday—but Wednesday a few of the students, well, went too far—

It’s dismissal time and the students are beginning there trek homeward or to the bus, but you’ve taught so long, you can smell it—that extra smell that tells you, yes, something’s brewing and you had better stay alert—and then—

It happens, just as you hoped it would not. A crowd is running to the action and you’re the only adult out there—not counting parents picking up their children. So you run too, and you get there just as three girls burst from the wall of onlookers with one very irate boy chasing after them. The girls turn in the middle of the street. This is funny to two of them. They are giggles and small shakes. The third girl knows they went too far. This boy is angry and his face is contorted and his mouth is full of ugly words and dangerous threats.

You grab at him, but he’s too fast, and he hits the third girl twice—once in the face and once in the chest. Then you get between them. You push her back—and you know she’s probably stronger than you. You find yourself holding onto him with all of your strength. It’s too hard. You’re by yourself.

Somehow you manage to contain the fight. Somehow you manage to get the boy against the fence in front of the school. Somehow you are able to move everything off the street. Security comes—finally—and helps by removing the girl who breaks loose again.

Some other students are helping you restrain the boy—and he’s strong and he wants to break out and he wants to do more. A hit to the face and chest is not enough. No.

Other adults from the school come running and you ease up just a bit—and then it happens. You’re still restraining him when the others helping you hold him begin to attack him—two boys and three girls: a hard punch to the face, a flurry of punches to the body, hard kicks into his legs.

It never ends.

You’ve had enough.

And then the next day comes and the ISAT ends and you’ve been writing this blog for a year now (I believe this might be its anniversary) and you want to write positive things, but you’re outside again and a pregnant girl gets out of the car with her friend and her mother in order to pick up the daughter who goes to my school and suddenly there it is again—the loud yelps of violence—but you’re not alone this time. You have all of the security with you.

You rush the scene and hold the same girl back from yesterday. You try to calm her. She is a curse word, suddenly, not even human anymore. Just a curse word like a wild river spewing from her mouth. You don’t know how it began and you don’t care. Not this moment.

You rush up to the mother when the other girl is restrained and tell her, Please, take her pregnant daughter into the school.

No, the mother yells at you. We’re going to finish this. She practically pushes her daughter onto the sidewalk.

There’s nothing else you can think to do but help to restrain the other girl—big and strong, but all of the time you’re thinking, Your daughter’s pregnant and skinny and sickly, too. If she fights, she will lose and she will lose badly. If you wanted her to have an abortion, why didn’t you just set it up in the clinic? Why would you want her to lose the baby right here, right now, on the street?

When calm is restored, it comes out. The pregnant girl—a student who does not even go to the school (with coaxing from her mother)—and her friend—came to start this fight. No motive. Nothing.

So you ask yourself again: If you wanted your fifteen year old daughter to have an abortion, why didn’t you just do it the right way? Was it an issue of money? Was it a moral dilemma that this fight would resolve?

Why would any grown mother send her pregnant daughter out into a fight she knew her daughter could not possibly win?

And when do fighters ever really win?

By the way, there’s a postscript to this blog, the boy is now officially transferred to my room. Effective noon, Thursday. And in the playground when we are offered a chance for recess this is what I overhear: Yeah, he tells the students around him, I beat the mess out of them. I got in so many licks—and then he looks my way and he knows he’s making this up and he turns and runs to play basketball as if nothing had ever happened.


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