A voice crackled over the intercom this morning. "This is a code red..." My heart stopped for a moment as I jumped into action. As I headed toward the door, twenty-three second graders went into action. "drill". I flipped off the lights. I pulled down the shade on the door with one hand, propped open the door slightly with my right foot and inserted the key hanging from the lanyard around my neck into the lock in one smooth movement gained from years of practice. As I was doing so, I quickly scanned the hall for the child I'd sent out a moment before. Good! He was just a few feet from the door and he'd make it back into my classroom. If he would have been too far away, he would have had to either duck into another classroom, or go to the "emergency room" down the hall and around the corner.
I silently breathed a sigh of relief. A child in the hall only has seconds to make it into a classroom. Once the door is locked, we are not to open that door until an all clear is given. We are not to open it for any reason. This is a horror I hope neither I nor any other teacher will ever have to face. Can you imagine what it would be like to know that a child is locked out and there is a dangerous intruder on the loose? Everything within you would want to throw open that door as they pound on it and cry for you, yet to unlock the door could endanger the safety and lives of a classroom full of children. The children know this and this is why we have drills. So they know what to do and where to go. Like I said, I pray this will never happen and I am glad our school is an old building where classrooms line most of the hallways and hopefully a child could make it to one of the other classrooms before the doors are closed.
He slipped inside and without a word headed back toward my desk where the other children huddled silently under some tables. I remembered two children were absent and breathed a prayer of thanks that this was only a drill.
Although they knew it was a drill, the children stared at me wide-eyed and silent as the door rattled. I put my finger to my lips. Don't say a word. Don't move. My heart ached as I watched them trying so hard not to wiggle. My heart ached that the time and place in which we live requires us to do drills such as this. Yet, this is the reality in public schools across America.
Today I learned that I am getting a new student. This will bring my numbers back up to 27. No, I don't have an assistant, aide or volunteer. I have me. This student is Hispanic. This will bring my number of ELL students up to 12. English is a second language for 48% of my students. The poverty rate at my school just recently rose to 78% this year. Five years ago it was 51%. I just read that 10% of the students in my school district are homeless. I have a student in my classroom who has been moving from shelter to shelter since September. Her mom got a place to live yesterday. Although it is in another town, arrangements are trying to be made so she can finish out the school year here. She's had enough instability in her life but on the other hand, staying will involve long and complicated bus rides.
Twenty-six percent of my students either receive or need special education services. Those who aren't receiving them yet are not receiving them due to an overburdened system which simply does not have space for them. I have two students in counseling and two more who desperately need to be as they are exhibiting serious signs of mental illness. I'm not kidding. All four of these students have had to be physically restrained on numerous occasions before they injured themselves or others. As I said, I'm not kidding. One of these students was suspended today. While she was in another classroom, she brutally punched and kicked a boy. His crime? He asked her if she could pass him the pencils. Her response was to attack him. Before you say there must have been something else, please understand this sort of thing has happened on a number of occasions. She is unable to tolerate anyone getting within close proximity to her and in her mind she has to hurt you before you hurt her. You can imagine what it must be like for her in an over-crowded classroom. My school was built in the 1930's and was originally a junior high school. The classrooms are very small by modern standards and they were designed for students who came in for a 55 minute lecture.
In 2009, I was only in the classroom for four months yet I spent nearly a thousand dollars on classroom materials. Why? Because there was no money in the budget to get necessary materials and resources. We have a reading curriculum which is way beyond the ability of over half the population and is more suitable to children living in suburbia rather than those living in the inner-city. The only other curriculum we have is math and some science kits. So, we do like many public school teachers do across the country. We purchase and/or re-stock the materials needed to adequately do our jobs. I'm curious. How many of you spent a thousand dollars or more last year to purchase necessary materials to do your job properly? If you did, I'll bet you also turned in the receipts and got a reimbursement check. I didn't because there is no money available to reimburse me. This is a common story for public school teachers in America. This is one of the reasons we are now permitted to deduct these out-of-pocket expenses on our income tax.
About 15 years ago, I had a confrontation with an angry student. I got them to calm down and sit down. Fifteen minutes later, they went outside with their class. Within half an hour, the word spread that a loaded gun had been removed from the student. Many knew about this confrontation I'd had and everyone was stunned to realize the boy had a loaded gun on him at the time. I thank God for protecting me and the other people at my school!
I've been hit twice and threatened by both students and parents. I've seen parents who don't know how to behave physically escorted from the premises. I know of teachers who have had to file restraining orders and who have been lied about. Someone even lost their job before the truth came out. It was a little too late. I've seen students removed by police as well.
Many teachers will never have to face these issues but please know they are a reality for many public school teachers across America. When you consider the types of things many of us are up against, you might find yourself amazed at what we actually do accomplish! Please pray for us and if you know a teacher...tell them thanks for caring enough to face some difficult obstacles every day! They'll really appreciate it.
They don't usually require credentials for volunteers but many schools do now require background checks for obvious reasons. Just check with your local school district for volunteer opportunities. So many of these children love to have a chance to just read one-to-one with an adult.
My heart aches to hear that drills must be done for 2nd graders. It is absolutely astounding that our public schools have fallen into this state. Thank you for being one of the few, the proud and the brave. Most teachers would never put up with what you do, they would either quit (like my sister) or move to another district or private schools. Someone has to teach these kids.
Thank you for a very moving account of what it means to be a teacher in a public school in a poverty stricken location. At the current rate, that may describe all schools pretty soon. Thank you for your courage and commitment.