“Think of how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”
- Jacob M. Braude
In the spring, New England rain is incessant. Since it was a warm winter, we had much more rain than snow, so I’m sick of rain at this point. I was glad to be off yesterday because it poured all day and it had been many days since I had time off to write. I was productive – even virtually dusting off an old manuscript – The Disappearances, which I wrote last winter. Right after I completed it, I got the idea for Aura, so I abandoned this manuscript after a few changes and never looked back… until now.
But today wouldn’t be an editing day because I was called for a Special Ed. job at the behavioral high school. Truth be told, I forgot there was a behavioral high school. This is a place for second chances, for students who would otherwise drop out or get expelled. A couple of years ago, I interviewed there for a Social Studies job, but (obviously) didn’t get it. In fact, that Social Studies position had opened every year for the first four years – not a good sign.
Classes are small so that the teens get more one-on-one attention. Some just stay for a semester, but others remain for all four years. Another sub told me it was “hard” to work there. I’d soon find out if it were true.
The last time I was called for Special Ed in the regular high school, I foolishly thought it would be for support, but I was actually in charge of teaching Math*, which was a DISASTER. This time I hoped it would be for support, but couldn’t be sure. I decided to get to the school to get my bearings and find out my fate.
I arrived early and said the absent teacher’s name. “She doesn’t work here,” the secretary replied. Oh no – I had driven to the old behavioral high school location, which is now the freshman high school. I had forgotten that it moved and, even worse, didn’t remember where it had moved. (So much for being early.) After receiving vague directions from the secretary, battling with my GPS (and losing), and calling my husband for directions, I found the school. Did I mention it was raining? It’s still raining.
Believe it or not, I made it with a minute to spare. Turns out that I would be support. Apparently, there are a lot of absences at this school and as the morning wore on it became clear that most of the students the absent teacher worked with weren’t showing up.
But I did have some students to assist in the writing classroom because other kids who had study period came in too. First, I worked with a student who had to answer questions on adaptation, layers of soil, and carbon dating. The only two Science classes I took in college were about geology and evolution, so I actually knew something. Another student needed help with vocabulary – synonyms and antonyms. Then a student was writing an e-mail to set up an interview, so I helped her.
The students did quiet work with support, which probably kept them from acting out. Dealing with the students one on one in a casual setting, they were nice to me and the other teachers, and teachers treated the students with respect.
What separates a behavioral school from a traditional school, you ask? Here are a few perks to being a bad kid:
- You can wear a hat
- You can listen to your music player with little chiding
- You can visit another class with alleged or real permission
- You can check a text and take an occasional call
- You can show up over an hour after school begins
“I couldn’t get up. I was up until two in the morning,” one young man explained.
“I have a kid because I used to be a bad girl.”
“My mom was in my face when I got up this morning. She says I give her a hard time. She doesn’t know how much I put her on a pedestal. My friends? They smoke and drink right in their houses. My mother’s pedestal is higher than their mother’s pedestals.” Then she asked, “Can I use the loo?”
Later, this same student looked up information about her possible career choice on the Internet as part of her assignment.
“Pediatricians make dirt! I can’t live on that.”
“How much do they make?” I asked.
“Dirt,” she replied.
I laughed. “That’s not dirt.”
“How much is it? What can I buy?”
“You can buy a BMW,” the teacher chimed in.
“And afford to live in Harvard Square,” I added.
I think her career choice was back as an option. She looked up neurosurgeon, and although the salary was impressive (not dirt), she didn’t want to get in trouble if she made a mistake drilling into people’s brains.
Near the end of the period a young man sauntered in.
“Where are you coming from?” the teacher asked.
“Art. I just took a test.”
“How did you do?”
“I didn’t take it.”
“You didn’t take the test. Why didn’t you take it?”
“I didn’t feel like it.”
“But you’ll fail if you don’t take it.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
A former student came in and I could tell that he gave these teachers a harder time than he had when he’d been in the fifth-grade. It made me wonder about the success of the school. I’d heard that the drop out rate was lower, but did that translate to them being able to better cope in the real world once they left the school? I’d like to spend more time at the school to find out.
* I’m pathetic when it comes to math and this post proves it: