09 February 2007

O Crappy Day

Pardon my French, but you know it hasn't been sunshine and roses when the question "How was your day?" can't be answered without phrases such as "gang fight", "police dogs", and "full lock-down".

My particular school site is the second-worst middle school in the district, as far as poverty/drugs/gangs/etc. are concerned. Even if it's not the very worst, it's pretty bad. A bit of background: There is gang affiliation among even 12-year-old children, and gang-related scuffles are not uncommon. Most of the gangs are ethnically segregated (Asian, Hispanic, and African-American gangs), and there is fighting among rival gangs within ethnic boundaries, as well. Basically, nobody can get along with anybody else. The Hispanic gangs in our area are primarily affiliated with either surenos (south/blue) or Bulldogs (initially connected to the nortenos, north/red, but now resisting association with the main nortenos; they want their own identity); these are prison gang affiliations, and they're kind of confusing. There is good evidence that Latino gangs throughout CA have started to engage in violent crimes against African-Americans, reflecting a larger power struggle between browns and blacks in the west coast's urban centers. And so, in the past few weeks, there have been several face-offs, sometimes coming to blows, between Hispanic and black youths. [Note: The Asians gangs are pretty cut-throat, but as with any Caucasians, the Asian population is small enough to make them a minor part of any equation.] Fun times. The Bulldog presence is very strong, and the students are not allowed to wear any red. We are always finding grafitti (tagging is usually ESF or BDS) on the property. I know some of my students who tag Bulldog stuff on their binders and papers. Not too bright.
Yesterday afternoon after school, African-American students were jumped by a group of Bulldogs, allegedly wielding crowbars or brass knuckles, just over the fence from the school. I wasn't on the scene, but I heard reports of the fight on my walkie-talkie, and then heard the siren and saw the ambulance. Not a happy scene. Naturally, tensions were high today, and I actually expected some fights. I did NOT expect to hear via walkie-talkie, during Period 3, that we were going into lock-down for an unspecified reason. I had just sent my TA on an errand, and I went to the door and called him back. The announcement came over the PA a few minutes later, and I had my smallish flock settle down to wait for who-knows-what. I was rather pleased that they stayed relatively calm, and I myself wasn't particularly nervous or frightened. Thanks to my walkie-talkie, I heard a lot of radio chatter, and there was police presence; they were bringing dogs around to check out every classroom. I don't know what exactly they were seeking, nor do I know what exactly they might have found. Even the radio traffic didn't give me that information. However, the standard teachers who didn't have walkie-talkies were even worse off, and I know (from talking with them later) that they were very confused and (in some cases) frightened indeed. We essentially stayed in lockdown till the end of the day, although students were allowed to go to lunch and then switch classes once, under heavy security. My students don't change classes, so we just stayed put and they brought lunches to my classroom. Someone finally came to relieve me, after 1:30 pm, when I'd been in there without bathroom or food since 8:00 am.
At the end of the day, there was no official police finding, so students were given an explanatory note for their parents and then dismissed. I was exhausted, because even though my class is small, it is very intense, since it consists of 100% poorly behaved, at-risk students. A few of them, being (1) illogical and (2) very naughty, actually tried to run out the door while we were in lock-down. Grrr. Being stuck in a room with them for more than three hours, with no outside contact except a walkie-talkie utilized by harried administrators, was not fun. Let me just say, however, that I truly appreciate my teacher aides, as they were beautifully behaved and supportive during the ordeal.
Anyway, that was my day. I feel as if I haven't related it very well at all, but it's the best I can do at present. So I am fine and healthy, if a rather tired, but I'm realizing that I actually DO work at a school where many students are violent and cruel, carry weapons, and probably won't live very long. As a teacher for at-risk students, how can I reach out to them? I've found that it doesn't work very well to take a logical approach and explain, using straight facts and basic reasoning, that gang involvement is a poor prospect indeed. I don't understand the appeal, and I don't know how to get into their brains and get them to really THINK about things before they make choices that will destroy them. Frankly, I'm the wrong person for the job.

1 comment:

luminarumbra said...

It's a struggle for most teachers in schools like that. My freshman year roommate went on to work at a ghetto school out in Long Beach, and it wasn't long before she quit teaching work altogether because she couldn't figure out how to make a difference in their lives, or how to even communicate with them.

On the other hand, the junior high I went to was a pretty hard school. There were occasional gang fights and plenty of racial fights, especially between the strong white supremest groups and Hispanic groups. Razor wire lined the edges of the roof at any place it was remotely possible to climb up on it, and controlled substances were in frequent use.

And then one of the the teachers got hit by a thick chain one of the kids had been swinging around in class. He hadn't even been attacking her, but another student, and she just happened to get in the way. She spent time in the hospital and her back was never the same. But that incident encouraged her to actually *do* something, and with the help of some of the other teachers, they started really cracking down on what was going on there.

I'm not sure what exactly they did, since this all happened about 6 or 7 years before I got to that school, but I do know that there weren't any gang fights while I was there. There was rarely any tagging, and I never saw any controlled substances... not that they weren't still there, but they were much more quiet about the circulation. Coming into class and swinging a chain around was unthought of.

There were still fights. There were still rowdy kids and gang members and I don't want to think about the difficulty we gave subs. I even got a bit of crap for transferring in from another school. (Lucky for me, I transferred at the beginning of the year and most people forgot in a couple weeks.)

I don't know how such a tiny woman managed to make such a difference. 80% of the kids there could have beaten her up easy. But she did. And I don't know what you're going through or where you're supposed to be going, but you are where you are for a reason, and sometimes the reasons we are where we are are not the reasons we think they are.