Thursday, January 21, 2010

Desensitization of a Teacher

It all happened on a Wednesday.

"I'm going to shoot you in the head!"

"You didn't mean that."

"Yes I did! I'm going to shoot you!"

Fucking Wednesdays.

My first day teaching was a Wednesday. I was a mid year replacement, taking over for an exhausted vet who was headed for a much needed leave of absence. First day on the job, and a kid threatens to hit me.

I was nearly constipated for a month.

Six years later a kid threatens to shoot me in the head and I'm not even fazed, not even remotely worried. Now I just sneer and fire off a soul searing gaze that would wither a cactus in Death Valley.

The police ask if I want to press charges. The Dean asks if I want to have the girl who threatened me, this mean mouthed little yap dog of a kid, expelled. One snap of my fingers, and I could smear this kids life over the pavement, have her tossed in Juvee, transform her existence into a Pablo Picasso painting.


But what I do want is for her to feel fear, overwhelming wrath of God biblical style terror - the kind of dread reserved for people trapped in a cave deep under the earth with only a few hours left of breathable air. I want her so frightened that her heart races if she even thinks about threatening another teacher again.

"I want you to scare her."

The school police nod. "We can do that Mr. Leiken."

"You sure you don't want me to expel her?" the Dean asks. "Say the word, it's done."

I shake my head. This kid was stupid, but did she mean it? Do I have the right to wreck her life over a moment of pure idiocracy? No. "Suspend her for a day. Let her spend the weekend wondering if she's going to be expelled. That should be enough."

That night I make a tactical error and tell my sister what happened. She freaks out. "Brian, could you please leave that school. Please. Just get out of there. It's not worth it."

I try to put it in context, to explain that the threat was the nip of a Chihuahua, a poodle - not the bark of a Rottweiler.

But it doesn't work. This story shocks my sister so bad even I begin to question my judgement. Am I so desensitized that I can't perceive the danger? My father's first night in Vietnam he nearly freaked when he heard an artillery barrage, leaping to the floor like a cat.

None of the other soldiers even moved, all of them fast asleep, mouths open.

Phil has a critique as well. "You should have waited for a few weeks before publishing this blog, it contradicts the story you had in "Blink" about the kids coming to thank you for helping them graduate."

He's right. The stories do contradict each other. The truth is, they both happened in the same day. In the morning two of my former students came to express their gratitude, and that afternoon another threatened to shoot me.

Teaching in the inner city is a roller coaster, a formula one race track with hair raising turns and bursts of raw acceleration.

The only difference is that by now, I can barely feel the shifts. It isn't the ride that's changed, it's my attitude. I don't take the work home with me, and when I have an altercation, it's never personal.

Desensitization. That's the only way you'll make it.

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