Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Remember Me? You Kicked Me Out!" Safety for the Staff

Of course, sending students out was not always easy, for me or for the probation staff at Los Padrinos.

In another special ed class, the students were unruly as a rule. The full-time teacher, Mr. I., was deaf, and oftentimes he neglected to put in his hearing aids. Students would curse at him, shouting in his ear, and he didn't even notice it. It took me a while to realize how deaf he was until I met up with him one afternoon after school. He greeted me, then went back to working on his computer. In the past, I could walk up to his room anytime and chat for a few minutes, but on one day in particular he was just typing away at his computer, glanced down at some of the paperwork he had to enter for the day, then continued writing. I kept trying to talk to the guy, but for some reason he just kept pounding away at the keyboard. I had no idea at that moment that he was deaf, or that he was not wearing his hearing aids, to boot.

I learned about his condition from the principal one afternoon, after confronting her about the outrageous and undisciplined behavior in Mr. I's room, place the chronic lack of structure evident from the very moment that I walked into the room. But more on that meeting later.

As for Mr. I's room, it could be a real nightare covering that class. The teacher's aide on hand to help me out was really diligent with the students, but even then he was there only part of the time. Like me, he was a substitute who arrived only once in a while. If he helped out longterm, the students received more boundaries, more attention, but he was not there all the time.

The probation officers stationed in every room are instructed not to intervene unless they absolutely have to, like when a student is about to pound a teacher in the face or start a fight with another inmate. This realization was cold comfort at best for me one afternoon covering Mr. I.'s class.

In the morning during summer session, I met with a five students, two of whom proved that they wanted to get their work done, get their good notes, and get out of Los Padrinos as soon as possible. Besides the other two students who did very little work without any concern for starting trouble, there was this one kid, Scott, who had been enabled into complete insolence. He was trouble from the start, cursing and refusing to follow directions. I gave him three warnings, then sent him out of the room. Unaccustomed to being held accounted so quickly, he huffed a little while the probation officer, Ms. V., escorted him to the principal's office to be redirected (counseled to behave better).

Within five minutes, Scott ambled in an slumped back into the chair, propped up his feet, and started cursing at me. I couldn't believe it. This guy had just met with an administrator, and he was starting up again. I told him to step oustide, he refused, then I grabbed a referral form.

The probation officer, Ms. V., was looking kind of tired that morning. She barely got our of her seat, slowly walking over the minor, telling Scott softly to get out of his seat, then barely coaxing him. The juvile sat there, defiant, doing nothing.

"Come on, come on, you've got to leave," Ms. V. beckoned to the stubborn stalwart. He still refused to leave the room. Next, V. called in another staff member, Mr. S., who then told the kid to move out of his seat. Then another probation staff -- three in total -- came into Mr. I's room to get him to leave. By this point, I was disturbed, distraught, offended. Why did it take three staff members to escort one student, a defiant reprobate who felt that he did not have to take orders from anyone?

"Fine, Scott, I am writing you up again.” I whipped out the referral, and wrote it out on the desk next to him. Furious yet steely, Scott inched up close next to me, his fist clenched near my head, as I was bent down writing out that the student had cursed at me, then refused to leave after told to exit the room three times, and this after being redirected once already.

Clearly, this kid was trying to shake me, intimidate me, but he wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me, or he would have had another criminal charge listed on his record.

On the inside, I was cool. I may have bristled briefly when Scott first menaced me with his fist, but I just kept writing, focusing on getting down his infractions then sending him out.

When I finished writing him up, he seized the referral, then tore it up, stormed out of the room. By the time he had left, the assistant principal had joined the three probation officers who had arrived to assist in removing the unruly and unwilling student.

 I stood my ground, forced the student to leave, but I was really turned up on the inside about the gross failure of the staff to removed Scott more expeditiously. I called Ms. V to the side, demanding an explanation in the hushest of tones:

 “Why did it take so long to remove that kid?”

 She then explained to me the increasing lack of power that cripples probation officers:

“I cannot lay a hand on the  student, but I would pepper-spray him if he was going to hurt you.”

I was not thrilled with her explanation. She did not give me a lot of hope at that point.”

“Let me tell you, though.” V. said next. “I feel safe when you’re here. Mr. I. let’s these kids get away with murder. I give you an A+”.

She was really supportive. I had no idea how troubled she was sitting watch in that classroom.

“Well, I am glad that someone appreciates what I am doing,”  I told her. “But let me tell you, if I do not get support, then I am going home, because I refuse to put up with any disrespect.”

 “You get an A +” – that was good to hear, for once.  Later, probation staff shared with me that they were instructed not to get involved mostly because substitute teachers would just pawn off responsibility to the probation watching in the class, while the sub would just play on the computer or text. In some cases, the irresponsibility and incompetence of other substitutes had forced the probation officers’ union to agree to terms in which the security staff would stay back and do as little as possible. I was more troubled by the fact that they could not physically intervene, that they were not permitted to put their hand on a juvenile offender unless he did something aggressive first.

Ms. V. was a good sport, though. She was the first one who had dubbed me “Mr. Extra with a Capital E” – and that was after I turned over one very unruly group of students, refusing to tolerate their backtalk and corporate interruptions. She sent the word around very quickly about me, and I liked the support that I got.

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