Sunday, March 11, 2012

When An Intruder Invades Your Classroom

You have to start from the beginning on this one, but the interesting thing is the author, Alexandrea Ravenelle, teaches at community college, and frankly, in my experience, you're likely to have more of an urban (and perhaps socially distressed) demographic at such institutions.

See "Each Teacher Wonders, Is This the One?":
Every time I hear about a school shooting — whether in a college, like the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007; a public high school, like last month’s attack; or a private academy, like the one in Jacksonville, Fla., where, on Tuesday, a fired teacher killed an administrator and himself — I say a silent prayer for the students and teachers who were injured or died. I think about their families and those who watched their peers mowed down, about the warning signs that may or may not have been there. And I wonder if it could happen to me.

For nearly a decade, I’ve served as an adjunct sociology instructor at various colleges in New York City, from Yeshiva University to Hostos Community College in the Bronx. I’ve taught in schools with high-tech smart boards and integrated audio systems and in schools that reeked of roach poison and featured electric rat traps in the faculty lounge. I’ve lectured in classrooms at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where clusters of headless mannequins offered a silent rebuke for bad jokes.

I like and admire my pupils; many of them are juggling work and families along with school. And most of the time I think they like me too. Students send me post-term thank-you notes, and to my delight a few have even told me they became sociology majors thanks to my class.

But students have also gotten angry at me and blown up. I’m used to people crying when they don’t get the grades they think they deserve. A woman once threw an umbrella across the length of the classroom because I marked her late. When I told another student that he had been dropped from the class for nonattendance, he recorded the exchange and threatened to report me to my supervisor. Two years ago one student, angry about his D, sued me three times. I was interviewed by a high-priced law partner in a Midtown skyscraper and spent hours sitting in plastic chairs in courthouse holding rooms, the air heavy with annoyance and anxiety, before the cases were dismissed.

I know I’m not the only teacher who, facing down an angry student, worries that he could come back firing off more than snide comments.

The levels of trust and openness that are necessary for teaching are diminished every time someone opens fire in a classroom. Idle comments become vaguely menacing threats. Classrooms are no longer just about learning but also about observing — watching to see who seems upset, uninvolved, angry.
I've had so many classroom incidents of various degrees of danger that at this point nothing surprises me. The only thing that is truly surprising is the fake urgency that such threats are met with by college administration. And to be clear, folks in law enforcement who work with the college, and the front-line supervisors who deal with faculty concerns, are indeed responsive to the seriousness of the kind of disruptions and dangers that are part and parcel to the teaching experience nowadays. It's the higher ups in administration who either do not care enough to fully support faculty in their battles against dangers and disciplinary issues in the classrooms or who will side with disruptive students over teachers (especially if a student claims "civil rights" violations) as part of a totalitarian consolidation of power. I hate to say this, but folks going into public teaching nowadays should be prepared to lower their expectations a bit. What I do is I really cherish the moments when it all goes well and college is working like we idealize it. The rest of the time I throw up my hands and remind myself that retirement isn't that far around the corner.