Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Bully

There are no more bullies, only the emotionally disturbed, or ED.

ED is short hand for any and all kinds of student misbehavior: attention deficit disorder (ADD), social maladjustment, hyperactivity disorder, childishness and immaturity. In the old days when you acted like a jerk you were an asshole.

In 2009 the LAUSD school system has no classification for asshole. Today, any and all misbehavior is called ED.

If you think that ED is just another attempt by our society to rationalize bad behavior as a medical symptom rather then force people to admit fault - you are probably not a latte liberal.

Last week, ED John was transferred into my room. I sit down with ED John and we have a long talk about why he is having trouble in his other classes. He promises not to pick on any of the other kids, and we work out a system where if he is feeling irritated with another student, he should ask to leave the room.

When I announce to my class we are getting a new student, they perk up. When I tell them its ED John, there is a collective groan.

Please, mister? Does ED John have to be in here? He's terrible! Nobody likes him! He's mean to everyone, boys, girls. He even picks on the retarded kids. Trust me, you don't want him in your room mister. He's a bad person.

I quiet them with an ugly glare. "I don't want anyone in herItalice to pick on ED John. Leave him alone, if anyone has a problem with him, bring it to me first."

The students shake their heads. "You'll see, mister. You'll see."

I speak with his other teachers. They can barely stand him.

Oh boy.

The first two days, everything is smooth. ED John doesn't want to do much work, but he cooperates and keeps to himself. He prods the water a little bit, testing me for weakness, but I remain firm and everything appears to be cool.

On Monday I come into school in a foul mood, worried about my sister. After a few minutes, I apologize to the class explaining why I'm being overly strict. They listen with rapt attention, both fascinated and empathetic about my sister's breast cancer.

I glance over and spot ED John, fingers flashing over his PSP.

"John," I ask, "what am I talking about?"

John shrugs.

Emotionally, I'm somewhere between irritated and wanting to pulverize his face. Yet the laws in this country would insist I'd be the one to go to jail!

Instead I ask for his PSP. ED John refuses. I ask a second time. Little hand held electronic devices are a strict no-no at South East. John refuses again. I give him a minute to think about it.

John still refuses. I warn him that now I'm going to have to call the Dean and have the PSP forcibly removed. John looks up from his PSP, startled. "Okay, okay, okay! What about I give it to you and you give it back to me at the end of class."

"We're past that point, kid. Hand it over to me, or the Dean."

"Then I'll wait for the Dean."

The Dean comes and escorts ED John out of class. A few minutes later a crestfallen ED John enters, apologizing and asking if he can remain for the rest of class.

I wave to his seat.

The rest of the period passes without further event, until about a minute before the bell, when ED John looks up.

"Y'know Brian," he smirks, "I'm not sure you did such a good job teaching today."

This kid is good. If he had called me by my first name after class, I could have ignored it or let it go with a warning, but because he did it in class, he's made calling me by my first name an issue.

"Sit down!" I bark. "You can stay two minutes after the bell. I want you to tell me why it's not appropriate to call me by my first name."

ED John apologizes, says he's sorry, promises not to do it again. It rings with the authenticity of a practiced salesman who has made the same pitch to a thousand customers.

I let him go, no need to make a bigger deal out of it. ED John turns as he exits. "See ya, Brian!"

I follow him. ED John walks to his next class. I stare at him, imagining his head exploding into a thousand gory bits. I say nothing, I don't smile, laugh, smirk, growl, grimace. My face is a mask. After a minute ED John starts to get nervous.

"Stop staring at me!" I ignore him. "Stop it! You know that you are just looking stupid." After another minute he looks up. "When are you going to stop!"

"When you apologize for what you did."

Again ED John apologizes, all with the same practiced inauthentic sincerity. I don't care, I've made my point. As I go to leave he calls me by first name again. "See you tomorrow, Brian."

I turn around and stare. This time it goes a whole three minutes before he panics and leaves the room. I follow him, he wanders down the hallway and then roams outside. When he goes into a jog, I keep pace. I say nothing, I give nothing. Just a hard stare.

"Leave me alone, leave me alone!" he screams. "Brian, Brian, Brian!"

"Whenever you call me by my first name, I'll stare at you for one minute."

"Aggggh!" ED John sits down at a table and I look at him. He tries to match my gaze but he can't, looking at the ground, seeking some kind of escape. "Can't you just stop?"

"I sure can."
ED John looks up, hopeful.
"In another three minutes and eleven seconds."

ED John gets up again, I follow him. We're now well into 2nd period, but Duran's kids can wait.
"If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to hit you!" he snarls. "I'm going to knock your head off!"

"You know that's verbal assault." I reply, calm. "I can have you suspended, maybe even arrested for that."

"Okay, okay, okay. I'm sorry. Please, just stop staring."

I escort him back to class. This time as I leave the room, he's quiet.

I ask ED John's other teachers if he has threatened them. They all answer yes.

I decide to report the incident with the school police.

They tell me they can't do anything. Evidently ED John's threat was conditional assault, because he wasn't going to hit me if I left him alone.

I lean back in my chair, looking at the police officer. He stares back.

If a student brings any drugs to school, even an aspirin, they are immediately suspended because of a zero tolerance drug policy.

If a student says they are going to bring a gun to school, they are immediately taken out of school and given a psychological profile or threat assessment. I once had a student joke about bringing a gun to school and they took him out in handcuffs.

If a student says they are going to commit suicide, they are immediately taken to the school psychologist and closely monitored, frequently being sent to a psych ward.

But if a student threatens a teacher....nothing.

If I threatened a student, I'd be fired. Possibly brought up on charges.

The officer looks embarrassed. The law doesn't protect teachers from students, only students from teachers and other students.

I'm not even angry. After 6 years this is par, a typical response from the school system for atypical behavior. We'll get rid of ED John eventually, but first I need to document all of his misbehavior with daily logs, get written statements from his other teachers, and keep him in my class for a few more weeks until we can hold a "change of placement" meeting.

No matter how bad this recession gets, no one wants my job.

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