“He just sat there and defied me. I told him to move to the back of the room and he just sat there and ignored me. I want something done. I know you already busted him for gambling on school grounds. And I know his kind, professional negro boxers in his family. All into crooked stuff. I want him out.”
This bitter report came from the math teacher, old Ted as he sat across from my desk in the school office. I thanked Ted for coming in and let him know I would talk with DeShawn asap and do my best to get him to comply. Ted said I had better do something because all the other teachers were pretty upset too.
Ted’s accusation about DeShawn’s gambling and about his family was partially true. The Education Code stated clearly that gambling was not allowed at school and De Shawn had been busted like 3 other white kids for flipping nickels against the gym wall during lunch recess. They all had to write 100 sentences, “I will not flip nickels at school,” except for one of the white boys who got his nickels and more by extorting lunch money from other weaker kids. He was suspended for 2 days.
In fact, in my view the schools had already kind of lost the moral high ground in the gambling discipline since California’s voters had recently in 1984 approved a lottery with proceeds to be spent on education. It was also the case that DeShawn’s uncle, a professional boxer had gone to prison for a crime he had been convicted of locally, and gambling by the community was involved somehow. And it was also true that other faculty members were upset about the fact that DeShawn was a “new kid,” and had enrolled at this school a couple of weeks earlier.
Ted’s was actually the third faculty visit I had received regarding DeShawn, an African American 8th grader who was one of the few people who had been at the school less time than I. I was the new Vice Principal at this Junior High School which was in a area where people lived for years, and rarely moved. I had received a 25% raise over my prior position as an elementary school principal in a rural district to come here. This was a multi-school town district, so the job that came with unfamiliar problems to accompany the nice salary increase.
The first visit I received about DeShawn had actually come from the science teacher, an older man who was known across the school community for his no nonsense discipline. Furthermore, he had been the preferred candidate of the local faculty and union for the job I had been hired for by the school board. He told me that I had one chance to show what I was made of, and handle this ‘young buck’ the way the school expected me to handle it. He would help by doing his share to keep a running incident list of anything DeShawn did so he could be expelled legally.
The second visit had been from the PE teacher/coach who brought DeShawn to me to complain that this kid was playing flag football too rough for the local boys. A big kid had tried to block De Shawn but the kid ended up bouncing off DeShawn and landing on his face. The result was a bloody nose and muffled racial epithet where no one else could hear the bloodied kid say the word ‘nigger’ except DeShawn.
The science teacher appeared again later that day to tell me that the teachers were together on keeping track of any incidents and would document them so I would have lots of evidence in writing when it came time to expel DeShawn. I asked him if he thought it was legal to do that before the kid had actually done anything that bad? He told me these teachers knew how to get rid of any kid. And as a newbie, I’d better support them or I’d be gone too. I talked with the principal about this and she told me those teachers would drive me out in a hot minute. Better figure out how to make them happy.
Now there were many great teachers in this school who saw themselves as developers of human beings. But there were also the kind who seemed to be industrial assembly line workers. They set up their classrooms and ran them on a tight schedule that resulted in basic coverage of the curriculum in the textbook. This sounds fine, but there was no room for any issues brought forward by students, such as questions, or challenging personal circumstances such as sudden homelessness. In fact, they could deliver the same lessons whether there were students in the classroom or not.
Old Ted was a good example of this. My first day at school I met him as he was running off copies on an old ditto machine. He said he had dittos for every day of the school year all ready to go. This way he wouldn’t have to waste any time planning during the year. This need for freedom from planning was going to be really important this year since he had been elected Exalted Ruler (chairman) of the local Elks Club. Ted had let me know when I arrived at this school that he would be pretty busy this year due to this Elk honor. This guy was a future poster boy for the entire charter school movement in my view. I knew the Elks had been in fairly recent hot water for denying membership to African Americans. Locally they denied membership to the president of the community college.
Every day old Ted’s students entered his room and sat in the assigned seat in long rows. Ted did a sample math problem on the board. Then the students worked on a set of problems silently. After half an hour, Ted let them ask questions and then class was dismissed. Every Friday was Quiz day and students could show whether they understood or not.
Interestingly, later in the school year, a large sum of Federal Title 1 money came to the school for Math Instruction. All his students qualified for remediation. The principal placed half of Ted’s 36 students per period in a new portable classroom (trailer) with a bright and caring teacher’s aide. She used varied methods and materials to help her student understand and succeed. Ted, on the other hand, didn’t change anything. He just taught the same way with shorter rows. He also got the same results.
It was Ted who sent DeShawn to the office the next day with a discipline referral for shooting spit wads from a milk straw in class. The note included the comment that, “This dangerous activity could put someone’s eye out.” Ted was working the documentation angle hard this early in the process so my worry level increased. I made DeShawn stay after school. But this didn’t’ satisfy old Ted. He went to his union school representative and told him I was letting a dangerous situation go on that could end badly for everyone. The rep came to visit me again and I told the rep that I was aware of the situation.