Thursday, September 27, 2012

"He's A Weirdo!"


That's what one of the students started chanting in a high-pitched voice just out of place in a classroom in juvenile hall.

"Weirdo!" Once again, yet this time, the probation officer conducting the group of ten adults chided them: "You guys, what's the problem. Why can you not just get your act together?"

Most of the probation staff had formed a decent relationship with the juvenile offenders, but for me as a substitute teacher, it was an upward battle every day.

I did not come to Los Padrinos every day. In fact, maybe once or twice a week I came to campus. I did not see the same students every day. In many cases, most of the students had not seen me before, and they would never see me again. This made the whole "sub" thing very difficult, indeed.

I had the glasses, the light complexion, and just about every other signal which screamed "bookwork", ""pointdexter" and "easy prey". I had to be on my guard when I was covering these classes, and sometimes probation did not help me.

I was not the typical teacher for the juvenile hall set. Most of these kids were used to minority teachers: black and Hispanic, but I was one of the few white teachers. I did not see a lot of white students end up in juvenile hall, either, although I knew that kids from every wrung of the ladder, race, wealth, culture, ended up in these halls for some crime.

I was definitely a "weirdo" to these kids, most of whom had a life very different from my own. Then again, I was also the type who had no problem throwing five kids out if the entire class tried to run me. No one got away with anything, and I had learned the importance of towing the line at all costs, no matter what.

I was a "weirdo" also because I refused to let up on some students in some classes. If they wanted to give me nothing but trouble, I found that the best I could do was give in right back to them.

I remember covering the special ed class at Los Padrinos. Most students tried to get a special ed diagnosis so that they could fight their fitness hearing. I met my fair share of weirdoes in those classes. Some students just did not fit in with the general population.

Then again, I proved to be a bigger weirdo for those kids, many of whom had no idea what to do wit themselves or with me when I came in and took charge.

The teacher I covered for in one special ed class, defined "incompetent" -- the type of teacher which wars against the merits of tenure and teacher union power. The teacher was deaf, yet felt compelled not to wear his hearing aids. A real weird, to say the least. He did nothing to make himself prepared and available for the staff whom he worked with. The students  would get away with murder, and I heard all about it from the staff who had to work in that room as resource specialists with some of the students.

One student had gotten in my face early in the day, enough that I sent him out of the room. When the principal redirected the student back, he tried to brush past me without saying anything. "Oh, you know what, he's not ready yet." Then the staff shuffled the student off to another room during the first half of the day.

The students began to behave themselves somewhat better, but the lingering upset about "The Weirdo" is always ready to pounce once again. The young student who had had trouble came back into the classroom later that day. He was calmer, that was certain. Yet as the end of the day approached, the students got wily once again. Did I neglect to mention that that day was a Friday? Nothing but upset all the way was in store for me and the other substitute in the room.

The same kid finally put his head on the table, and whined: "This guy's an F----ing weirdo!"

That was the last straw for me. I had no choice but to send him out.

The students in the halls do not have a lot of freedom when it comes to dealing with whatever comes their way. That can be the downfall of ending up in the system, a tragedy for those youth especially since they do not have parents who held them accountable, the schools are afraid to, teachers are not empowered to, and everyone else has no idea what to do for them. The inconsistency of it all can make any tough teacher seem like a "Weirdo".

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