A review of GWFT by C. D. Phillips (Oakland, TN USA)
If you teach high school you need to read this book. OK, so it is meant to be funny and might actually offend at times but just to think from this viewpoint is something every teacher should be required to do. Very highly recommended.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Surviving Study Hall
2 Girding Your Loins For The
Perils Of Extra-Curricular Duty
3 Tricks for Out-dueling Ninth-Graders
4 How To Foil Hooky Players-
And Keep From Being Foiled
5 Summer School and Dante's Inferno
6 You and God
7 Savor Little Victories for Your Health's Sake
8 Thwarting Snoopervisors
9 School Reform: A Waste of Time
10 Parents' Night
11 How to Use Sick Days
12 A Failed Strategy for Recapturing the School Johns
13 The Counselor: Friend or Foe?
14 Catching Cheaters
15 Guns and How to Live with Them
16 The Pitfalls of Substitute Teaching
17 Teaching Outside Your Major
18 Beware the Dangers of Sex Education
19 Pay and Perks
21 A Plan to Keep The Hooligans Out and How
It Went Awry
22 Getting Promoted
23 Assorted Discipline Dodges
24 Surviving The Dreaded Teachers' Meeting
25 Professional Organizations
26 Office Staff
28 How To Downsize Your Superintendent-And Why
29 How One Victim Got Even
30 Teacher Types-An Overview
A Survival Kit A Final word
AMERICA'S TEACHERS ARE...
...underpaid, unloved, and unsung. To add injury to insult, the job is downright dangerous, the stress high and morale low. Teachers are routinely threatened, vilified, thrown down the stairs and out of windows, insulted by their administrators, and blamed for the nation's growing ignorance.
Yet they persist. Most of our kids do learn something in the public schools, even the worst ones, and that happens because a lot of people are good at their jobs and manage to succeed in spite of all the obstacles put in their way by irresponsible kids, misguided parents, half-witted administrators, cynical politicians, and an apparent national disinclination to apply common sense where needed.
This book, then, is for our nation's teachers. May they all live to collect their pensions.
NB-please note that this work is based on my thirty-year career in some of the worst schools on the planet. The buildings were on fire several times a week, sporadic gunfire punctuated the fire drills, daily attendance ran about 70%, many teachers became stoners by inhaling the pot smoke seeping from the johns, half of the kids never graduated, and it's still exactly the same twenty-five years after I left the place. Forewarned is forearmed.
Even so, the advice contained herein is the best you'll ever receive and well worth its weight in, well, whatever good ideas are worth.
I was a teacher for thirty years and liked both teaching and teachers. The teachers I knew were hard working, capable pros who really cared and did their level best to help the kids learn.
They worked in a hostile environment, one that was often dangerous, their cars were stolen at regular intervals, powerful chemicals drifted through the air vents and fried their brains like a pan of eggs, and they earned shameful wages and little respect. But they were, and still are, pros.
I was a witness when the system began to fall apart. The kids took charge of the schools in the sixties aided and abetted by lunatic-fringe types posing as concerned parents or community activists. School boards everywhere surrendered power to anyone who demanded some, superintendents sold out in droves, school administrators wrung their hands and all of them blamed the teachers for the resulting chaos.
Teachers barely surviving as it is thus get an undeserved bad rap and nobody goes to bat for them. I thought it was time someone did and this book is the result.
My story begins with my transfer to Mackenzie High School after stints in elementary and junior high schools. Mackenzie is a large high school deep in the inner city of Detroit, an old building in good repair and actually functioning fairly well overall. The school had churned out reasonably well educated graduates for forty years and was still doing so when I arrived.
Alas, all that changed soon enough. Maybe it was the war or dope or crazy rock bands or whatever but almost overnight Mackenzie High turned into an educational nightmare. We had riots and fires and marijuana smoke-ins on a regular basis. Cops were assigned to patrol our halls along with a dozen security guards and all available teachers. Doors were chained shut to keep out interlopers, vandals vandalized everything in sight, and muggers mugged.
Test scores fell along with morale. Nobody knew what the hell was going on or what he should do about it. A new principal was sent in to fix things and he didn't last a whole semester before riots and chaos sent him packing. A procession of replacements followed him. Teachers were assaulted and abused; many were driven into early retirement or homes for the unstable. It was the beginning of what many regard as the end of public education in America, a long slide into mediocrity and intellectual malaise.
This, then, is the author's eyewitness account of this continuing decline and the lessons learned from it. The teachers at Mackenzie High not only survived, they even flourished in this academic maelstrom and they did it in classic fashion by employing the hit-and-run guerrilla tactics used by underdogs everywhere. You can survive, too, if you memorize and apply the Survival Rules herein.
These Survival Rules are spread throughout the text to provide readers with concrete ideas for getting through the experience alive and in more or less one piece. These Rules were garnered from thirty years of teaching in some of the worst schools on the planet and all have been field-tested.
If you can reject idealism for realism, the way things ought to be for the way they are, madness for sanity, then this book can easily give you the edge you need to survive in the front lines of modern American education and beat the rascals at their own game.
Certain chapters relating to my experiences at Mackenzie have been interspersed to provide actual eyewitness accounts of the madness and mayhem our staff was required to live with and still is to this day. Some of these incidents have been exaggerated for dramatic effect but not by much.
We'll take things in no particular order and without apparent rhyme or reason just as they occur in real life. We begin with an overview of study halls at the Big Mack and finish when we get to the end.
The things taught in school are
not an education but a means to
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Surviving The Study Hall
Most schools employ the use of study halls as a logistical way to accommodate those students who have a blank slot in their schedules and need someplace to go between classes. In former times a study hall was just that, a place to study. Kids would bring their books and at least one #2 pencil and actually use the time to do their homework or read or doodle or whatever.
The point is it was a simple job for the teacher, one that required little effort and even offered a chance to catch a few winks if done subtly. The kids would grind away in utter silence, a large clock would tick off the passing minutes with a sound audible out into the hall, and life was ever so pleasant.
Well, not anymore. Study halls at Mackenzie bear little resemblance to such serene settings. These rooms are double-sized classrooms outfitted with five rows of desks each containing some twenty desks bolted to the floor. There is a teacher's desk at the front of the room and most study halls have a glass-enclosed counselor's cubicle at one end. The counselor always faces away from the study hall and keeps the door tightly closed to keep out the noise and any flying debris.
As you can see, if each desk held one person you'd have somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 kids in a given study hall and when we're talking about today's so-called students we're talking real trouble.
Nobody studied in our study halls; such a thing was not possible. For one thing, nobody brought books. Or pencils or paper or notes or homework. Each student brought himself and an attitude, nothing more. The rule was there were no rules.
People talked right out loud. They shouted to each other. Peals of laughter rent the air. Airborne objects crisscrossed the room as kids threw each other sundry items of apparel, war, and food. They walked around the room at will, sat in the wrong seats, played cards, disappeared altogether for long stretches, and generally did whatever they damn well pleased.
And how does the teacher deal with this madness? Shrewdly, if she's shrewd. Remember, our interest is in mere survival. We only care about staying out of the emergency ward and getting that pension. No heroics for us.
It's a good idea not to confront anybody. Kids today don't like to hear the word no; it irritates them and encourages resentment and even hostility. Still, you want to make a show of getting order so they won't think you're a wuss and run you out of the building and clear out of the profession. This requires certain acting talents and just the right amount of verve.
Survival Rule: To avoid study halls, forge a note from your doctor claiming you're allergic to noise.
First, close off that rear door if you have one with some of that tape cops use to secure crime scenes. There's always lots of this tape around the campus so you won't have to bring any of your own. This means the kids have to leave by the door nearest your desk and you'll have a better chance to keep track of who comes and goes in case the police later need your testimony as to a given kid's
Okay, the first kids arrive and you have to set the stage. Don't forget, we're guerrillas now. Take them by surprise. Hit them when they least expect it. Stand at the door and glare at them as they enter. Show them you mean business and won't take any crap and maybe you can intimidate some of the weaker ones.
Once they're all inside and before the first riot gets underway, write the words "Shut Up!!!" in big block letters on the chalkboard for all to see. Nobody will shut up, of course, but it shows you're a pro and nobody's fool.
Incidentally, you have to make a speech about here but first you have to do something about the noise or your hearing will fail and leave you deaf as a post. An hour a day in such a din is comparable to an eight-hour shift in a foundry where twelve-ton presses crash down on steel drums every eight seconds. Such noise can almost be seen with the naked eye or actually felt with a bare hand.
One idea widely used at the Big Mack was to stuff cotton balls in your ears and wear headphones over the cotton, a combination that reduced the noise level by a hundred or more decibels. One teacher, Jan Cramer from English, used the headphones to drown out the noise with loud rock music but that didn't work too well as the music itself produces deafness. Still, it was better to go deaf listening to music than to the awful sounds produced in the average study hall.
In any case, when you can make yourself heard, make this speech and put them on notice that you're not going to take that crap mentioned above.
"This is a study hall. If you don't have your books, put your head down and go to sleep. No talking. No eating. No hall passes. No radios. No smoking. No cards. No twittering. No semaphore flags. Raise your hand if you have a question. Are there any questions?"
If any hands are raised, ignore them.
Scowl fiercely. Keep one hand in your coat pocket to hint you may have a gun. Marv Nussbaum, a teacher in my department, kept a large stapler in his pocket and let it bang against a desk or a passing kid from time to time and everybody thought he had a 9mm pistol in there. Sometimes he used big toy bullets as worry beads to heighten the phony gun impression.
Carry a pointer, one without the usual rubber tip, and make slashing moves with it à la Zorro carving his initials on miscellaneous chests. As you move about the room, stop and whirl around suddenly every now and again to catch the kids who give you the finger or stick out their tongues after you've passed them. If you catch one in the act send him to his counselor for discipline and make a great show of it so the others will be more tractable in order to avoid visiting their own counselors.
No, the counselor won't really do anything to the kid but you don't care about that. What you want is that particular kid the hell out of your way at this particular moment and you don't care where he goes or what he does as long as he's somewhere else. Things like justice and fair play are abstractions and no concern of yours. Survival is all you care about.
Another device that works is to order each miscreant to go up front and write his name on the chalkboard. You'll fill a chalkboard the width of the room in a single period and record everyone's name at least twice. Continue the ruse by having a kid copy all the names on some paper and make a big deal out of folding it ceremoniously and readying it for the principal. When the kids leave, throw it away.
Always try to keep your head turned away from the kids and remember to keep the eye closest to them slightly closed. That way, if somebody throws something at you and it hits you in the head you'll minimize any possible eye damage. Many a teacher who wasn't familiar with this ploy enjoys monocular vision as a result of his ignorance. You can spot these guys because they're all wearing eye patches and running into things on their blind side.
Oh, and forget a seating chart for study hall. It can't be done. It's humanly impossible to force 100 kids to sit in assigned seats when you don't know one from another or even if they go to your school. I know because I tried it myself years ago and almost went nuts trying to keep track of everybody.
They changed seats en masse. The same kid never sat in the same seat twice and I had no idea where the hell they belonged. I couldn't keep track of them with radar and they knew it. In no time I became the butt of their jokes and passers-by would congregate outside the study hall to watch me try to take attendance. The worst part was I had to keep up the fight all semester or admit they'd beaten me and that was the longest eighteen weeks I ever spent in my life.
Most of this is strictly for show anyway, of course. There's really no way you can effectively control a study hall in today's schools, but at least these tactics let you create the impression that you're in charge and this adds to your stature as a teacher and could even pave the way for your entry into the ranks of administrators where you'll never have to deal directly with kids again.
Of course, such an event would force you to associate with other administrators and you may well prefer dueling with the kids to such an ignominious fate.
In the meantime, be a canny observer of the scene. Note any new schemes employed by your colleagues. Swap ideas in the teachers' lounge, compare notes, innovate. Don't forget that you're smarter than the kids are and you can out-think them every time if you're shrewd enough.
If all else fails, fake a heart attack and have the paramedics cart you off to the sanctuary of the nearest intensive care ward for a well-earned rest.
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
- Derek Bok
Girding Your Loins For The
Perils Of Extra-Curricular Duty
Remember, survival is the name of the game. Don't lose sight of that goal as we wend our way through the maze of modern schooling in these United States. With one eye fixed firmly on that distant pension, you'll want to keep the other fixed on the kids because they're the ones who'll prevent your ever drawing that first check.
Survival means knowing what to expect and what worked or didn't work before. It means planning ahead and learning from the experience of colleagues and not repeating their mistakes. It means learning to bob and weave and strike unexpectedly from the flanks in your running little war with the nation's half-wits and nincompoops.
Take extra-curricular duties, for instance. There was a time when this meant overseeing an after-school dance or taking tickets for the school play or chaperoning hay rides, tame duties that were uneventful and even dull. No one was ever injured or insulted at these affairs, no one threatened or abused. Alas, such is no longer the case.
Consider an example of such a duty in these perilous times. It's football duty at Mackenzie High in Detroit, an experience that traumatized an already jaded crew of teachers who'd experienced every outrage imaginable and were not easily alarmed.
Everybody hated football duty at the Big Mack, especially little Jimmy McAvoy in the science department. Jimmy got caught up in a stampede at one of our games a few years ago and some 250 frenzied fans trampled his inert form into the mud near the fifty-yard line. He didn't seem much the worse for wear at the time, but it turned out his spirit was broken along with several vertebrae. Ever since then the poor guy has had to scamper about sideways like a sand crab with a broken hip. And Jimmy was one of the lucky ones.
My last experience on football duty is probably typical of what transpires at our average game. I was assigned the duty of collecting tickets at the gate and, incidentally, trying to thwart would-be gate crashers. In terms of danger this duty ranked somewhere between running the bulls at Pamplona and bungee jumping from a fifty-foot tower with a fifty-one foot rope.
Survival Rule: Assume no dangerous duties. To avoid same, feign a limp or claim a back injury or cultivate a crazed look in your eye.
We knew this was going to be especially tough because we were playing Preppie High, a toney upscale school populated largely by the sons and daughters of aristocrats who were our kids' natural enemies. And besides being a snooty school, Preppie High made the further mistake of having the best record in the city. They hadn't lost a game all year and they wouldn't lose this one without divine intervention. (We were fairly certain God wouldn't help the Mackenzie cause since that would be like Him coming to the aid of Sodom and Gomorrah.) Winning the game was our only hope, and that meant we didn't have any.
Teachers on duty were required to be there an hour before kickoff to give them a chance to prepare defensive positions and scout the terrain. Some of us would fill sandbags while others laid out bandages, tourniquets, and splints for the wounded and maimed. Stretcher-bearers were stationed at vantage points here and there to cart away casualties and a cadre of teachers armed with chair-legs and garbage-can lid shields queued up behind the refreshment stand.
A few teachers were sent out as infiltrators to mingle unobtrusively with the students in an effort to learn their plans. Still, this ploy never proved fruitful because the students never made any plans; they seemed to rely on their instincts and reacted spontaneously whenever a chance to do mischief came along.
We gained comfort from the fact that we had an experienced and battle-tested crew for this game. All of us had been in the trenches long enough to have survived every possible calamity and, like tough front-line troops, we wore an air of insouciance in the quiet moments just before the battle was joined. But it was all for show again-our terror was boundless.
I parked my car two blocks away so it wouldn't be in the line of fire in case the festivities spilled over into the surrounding streets and walked back to the field. A mob was already milling around the fence when I got there and it took me several minutes just to work my way to the gate so I could assume my post. I took some heavy elbows in the ribs and some big-footed creep walked all over my suede shoes, but I silently congratulated myself for getting in with such minor injuries.
With the gate securely chained for the moment, I decided to reconnoiter a bit to check on our defenses. I found the police massed together behind the Preppie High stands where they stood around in small groups and fidgeted nervously. Their cars were lined up in a single row and they'd taken their riot sticks from the trunks. They were taking practice swings at imaginary heads while they waited. Overhead, a police helicopter swooped low over the field and fell into a pattern of tight circles against the fall sky.
At one end of the stands a dozen Doberman pinschers, vicious, mad brutes, snapped and growled menacingly and lunged against their chains in an effort to get loose and kill someone. The ugly beasts were held in ready reserve and released only as a last resort.
Survival Rule: Your car is vulnerable. Never park it in the same place twice.
The dogs weren't held out of the fray for any humanitarian reasons, though; it was mainly because they showed a profound lack of discretion in choosing targets. Once released, they were as likely to attack friend as well as foe and everybody knew it. Their principal value lay in the fact that when they entered the melee every human being, good guys and bad guys alike, vanished as if by magic and let the field go to the dogs.
I came across Marv Nussbaum sitting behind a low parapet of sandbags near the north end zone. He was basking in the warm fall sun and seemed perfectly at ease, but he was apparently not as relaxed as he looked. I approached from his blind side and I must have startled him because he suddenly whirled and struck me on top on my head with a stout stick before he recognized me.
"What the hell are you doing, Marv?" I demanded indignantly.
"Hey," he said, "I thought one of the sneaky buggers had got behind me. I'm sorry, Evan, I guess my reflexes are so finely honed now I strike without even
"Well, it's a good thing they didn't give you a gun, for God's sake. Nobody would be safe around you."
"I said I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well, I guess it's not really your fault. I should have been more careful myself."
I made a compress out of some Kleenex and tried to stem the flow of blood from a nasty head wound.
Marv shot nervous glances in four or five directions and continued to brandish his stick. "How do things look, Evan?" he said.
"I don't know," I said, "but my intuition tells me there's something in the air."
A soda can landed at our feet and skittered along the ground. There was a long, diabolical laugh and a chorus of voices chanting curses from behind the canvas-covered fence running along the field just past the end zone. That would be their advance guard arriving on the scene to soften us up with vicious probing attacks designed to uncover our weaknesses before they launched the main assault.
"How high do you figure the score will go?" Marv asked.
"Preppie should win by at least forty points."
"Okay, what happens if they get twenty-five points in the first quarter?"
A barrage of soda cans fell around us in a brilliant shower of reds and greens mixed with flashing silver. Marv and I dove for the sandbags. I arrived there in a dead heat with a green soda can; it caromed off my head with the most interesting "pinging" sound and raised a small welt behind my left ear.
We peeked over the parapet at the soda cans littering the landscape and Marv said, "They must have heard the question."
I decided it was time to get the hell out of there. I gave Marv the secret handshake and made my way back to the gate, pausing en route to genuflect at the little mound of grass marking the grave of Howie Harrigan, late of the foreign language department.
Harrigan started to come unglued right after our first uprising and went steadily downhill. He got pretty paranoid and finally took to wearing a ring of garlic around his neck to ward off evil spirits and the poor sap was beaten to death after a football game one day because he smelled so bad.
They buried him on the fifty-yard line and during each game at a special ceremony in his honor a gang of hoodlums gathers around his grave and pisses on him. It's a touching, tender ritual and the crowd never fails to respond by shouting obscenities and hurling epithets.
I got back just in time to open the gate and start letting people in. Ed Collins, the science department head, and I followed our plan to the letter. We unchained the gate and Ed leaned his bulk against it in an effort to allow space for a single entrant at a time while I took tickets. We'd let no more than a dozen or so in when I glanced at the stands and saw they were already half-full. Students came over the fence, under it, and through it with wire-cutters; we had a nice crowd settled in and chanting for the game to begin before we knew what was going on.
Just then the crowd surged forward and the gate flew open. Ed went sprawling and hundreds of students thundered through the gate and across Ed's chest. I was knocked backward into the fence and out of harm's way as everybody rushed by and filled the stands. I helped Ed up and found him unhurt except for an oddly twisted shoulder and some scuff marks on his face.
Talk about luck.
Let me just remark right here and now in our own defense that Ed Collins and I held that gate almost as long as Horatio held his bridge. There are those who say we broke and ran and so we did, but not until we'd both lost consciousness from wounds received. Besides, everybody knows discretion is the better part of valor and Ed and I were nothing if not discreet.
Their guerrilla training paid off for some old-timers who departed seconds before the final riot started when they surveyed the crowd with a practiced eye and instinctively sensed pending danger. Led by Ida Crocke, a cynical, one-legged old lady from the math department who hobbled about on a crutch and wanted to get a head start on them, their feet turned unbidden toward the nearest exit and they followed Ida out in a cloud of dust. This is an example of well-developed survival skills operating at warp speed, the very skills needed to make it as a teacher in these trying times.
The game only lasted until the half when Preppie was leading 56 to zip and everybody went nuts at once. Big Mack fans poured from the stands and went for the Preppie kids, their targets went for their buses, and the cops went for everybody. People were running in every direction and confusion reigned. I saw assistant-principal Bill Spanner go down under a flurry of blows and before I could go to his aid I was thrown against the fence and had an eye closed by a crisp right hand. That's when I took off.
The peanut man was worked over and deprived of his wares by a gang in the street just outside the gate. Police cars were coming from every point of the compass and the air was filled with rocks, bottles, and soda cans. As I legged it down the street a rock bounced off a parked car with a metal-crunching thud and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for having the good sense to park my car away from the scene of action.
Only the fit survive at Mackenzie High and few were fitter than I.
We had to wait until the following Monday to tally up the final score for the whole affair because we didn't know who'd turn up wounded or missing until then. It turned out that a dozen students were arrested, twenty-three injured in various degrees, and no fatalities recorded. Our side suffered no arrests, nineteen injured, no fatalities, and one missing.
Pete Bates from the auto shop was the missing teacher. He'd been taken prisoner by a gang of insurgents and held hostage, but they only kept him three days before a settlement was negotiated. The school board agreed to give each member of the gang a fully certified high school diploma and a paid-up four-year scholarship to a university of his choice. It was the least we could do for these unfortunate waifs who'd been victimized so cruelly by society. Besides, they'd have ventilated poor Pete's head if we hadn't met their terms.
So there you have it, an accurate, truthful account of football duty at Mackenzie High School on any given Friday afternoon in the fall. It was a memorable experience, one that will stand us in good stead for many years to come, always close at hand in case we ever need material for a nightmare or the makings of a nice psychosis.
Naturally, any sensible person would like to avoid activities of this sort and that means getting out of these duties if you can. For instance, it's a good idea to report to a new school using a cane and faking a bad limp. Hint that it's a war wound, nasty shrapnel in the knee, you know. It doesn't matter whether you were actually in a war or not as nobody will question a war hero. Just get the facts straight and pick a war that you might have served in and don't claim to be a World War II vet when you're only twenty-eight years old. The same with your war story; don't forget the details or you'll end up telling different versions and be exposed as the fraud you really are.
Or pretend you're blind. Get a white cane and/or a German shepherd and claim there's nothing you'd rather do than hold back enraged fans at the next football game but, under the circumstances, etc. Only the hardest of hardhearted principals will insist you hold back those fans.
The tricky part of this scheme is maintaining the deception throughout the year. If you use the war-wound ploy, you must remember to limp all the time. If you forget and people see you sprinting down the hall sans cane, they'll spot you as a phony and assign your devious ass to permanent lunchroom duty.
A better bet is to call in sick on football Friday and spend a relaxed day shopping or on the golf course.
Survival Rule: Keep a can of pepper spray in hand while on hall duty. Spray every suspicious person who comes along, i.e., everybody.
But if all else fails and you're faced with a duty assignment in spite of your best efforts, you need to take a close look at some of the duties found at all schools and see what you have to watch out for. Take hall duty, for example. Everybody knows what hall duty is. Teachers patrol the halls during classes to keep hall-wanderers out and intercept others who are making a break for it. This duty can be extremely dangerous, as lone teachers confronting strangers in dark hallways are taking great risks, indeed.
It used to be that the hall-duty teacher would check papers or daydream or even nod off on her post because there was nothing going on. Once in a while a solitary student would appear with a hall pass in hand on his way to the john or a colleague would stop by for a chat and it was Dullsville all the way.
Hall duty today is quite different. Once the bell rings and classes start the halls should be devoid of kids and aren't. Late arrivals linger at their lockers and socialize with friends as though they had all day to while away. They eat food they've stored in their lockers, buy and sell mysterious packets of things unknown, laugh and dance and arrange trysts and do everything except go to class where they belong.
When the tardy crowd finally thins out the professional hall-wanderers come out of their hiding places and prowl the halls raising Cain. The hall-duty teacher is supposed to check these guys for passes and apprehend those who are found cutting class but that's not easy since these guys are always on the move and won't stop to be interrogated. In fact, that suits the teacher perfectly as the last thing you want is a confrontation with packs of outsiders who are probably armed to the teeth and have IQs of 75 or less.
So here are some tips to get you safely out of that hall in one piece. First, try for a post on the top floor, one as far away from the thugs on the ground floor as possible. There are more dangerous types on the first floor because they have to get by the cops and numerous security guards that patrol that area. As fewer thugs make it to the top floor you'll have fewer run-ins up there and appreciably increase your chances of surviving the experience.
Always sit with your back to the wall, preferably close to a classroom where a 300-pound weightlifter is teaching so when you holler for help you'll get Samson and not Delilah. Having a fire-alarm box close by is also good because if you're assaulted you can pull the alarm and have the paramedics on their way before you've even lost consciousness.
Wear shoes with rubber soles so you can run and jump well and you may be able to out-run the thugs. Definitely avoid heels or tight skirts that restrict movement if you're a woman because you'll never be able to run fast enough or jump high enough in such garb. It's a good idea to sacrifice fashion for mobility.
If you do run into a band of rogues on hall duty, put up a bold front. Don't appear timid or weak or even hesitant as this emboldens thugs who enjoy it more if their victims are helpless. Speak right up and let them know who's who, I always say.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" you sing out when you spot those gangbangers heading your way.
"You talkin' to us?" their leader says.
"That's right, I'm talking to you. If you guys don't have hall passes, you're in big trouble. Come on, let's see 'em. Get 'em out."
Notice the authoritative tone, the crisp language without nuances that might confuse sub-marginal intellects? Plain words spoken by someone to be reckoned with, someone who's in a position of power and knows it. Most gangbangers will be intimidated and meekly follow you to the school cops to be arrested.
If the thugs you meet don't respond as expected, then this is why you're wearing those rubber soles mentioned above.
Are you asked to chaperon the school dance? This used to be a piece of cake but no longer. Most school dances are held at night and that means it's harder to see the thugs. For some reason kids who hate school worse than sin will still hang around the place as though they had no other home. School dances attract them like flies to potato salad and there's always an argument over whose property a particular girl is and the ensuing discussion is punctuated with bullets.
For some peculiar reason these bullets almost never hit their intended targets. Two gangs of thugs blasting away at each other on prom night will miss each other and shoot assorted innocent bystanders (teachers?!) every time. The bullets won't hit you, though, if you aren't there-so don't be there.
Try to get assigned to decorating the gym and you can stay home on prom night. Failing that, angle for the checkroom job; not only does that give you a place to hide when the action starts but you also might pick up some loose change with tips.
Never volunteer to chaperon senior trips or camera club outings, as you'll open yourself to lawsuits or worse. It never fails. Boys sneak into the girls' rooms and somebody produces beer and funny cigarettes and a noisy party breaks out and the management is called and the press shows up and it's scandal time all around. Solution? Never chaperon anything, especially if it's a night affair or out of town.
You can also look for special duties, the kind that don't involve supervising kids. You may edit the school paper in lieu of hall duty or compute the team's eligibility records instead of pulling football duty or work on the yearbook and skip lunchroom duty. In other words, play the angles.
Incidentally, lunchroom duty is the worst. The noise alone will do serious damage to your psyche and watching the kids eat will kill your appetite forever. In fact, dieters do well on lunchroom duty because they lose all interest in food once they're exposed to that spectacle.
Parking lot patrol is a common duty at most schools because the kids are forever stealing cars or their parts and nothing short of constant surveillance will stop them. You can expect no help from the Central Office because the kids are only stealing teachers' cars and nobody downtown gives a damn what happens to lowly teachers.
The big shots do care about themselves, though. I recall a bad period at the Big Mack when cars were being stolen at such a rate from the teachers' parking lot that some people thought we were running a Hertz agency on campus. We petitioned Central Office for a fence around our lot but they refused on the grounds of cost. A few days later, though, several cars were stolen from the Region Office's parking lot where the Grand Pooh-Bahs park and the very next day there was a rent-a-cop patrolling that lot in full uniform.
Anyway, teachers assigned this duty watch cars coming and going and check to make sure the right person is driving them. If the driver can't see over the steering wheel or the car is full of kids making merry, it's stopped and all are arrested. Of course, they'll all be out that afternoon and back in the parking lot the next day but we still get a kick out of seeing them in 'cuffs and the custody of the law even if it is only for hours instead of the years they deserve.
And the game goes on. All in all, duty periods are a pain in the neck or other part of your anatomy depending on where you've been shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, or otherwise injured. Get out of it if you can, but if you can't at least avail yourself of others' experiences and play the angles.
I am always ready to learn
although I do not always
like being taught. taught.
Tricks For Out-Dueling Ninth-Graders
As all teachers know, when kids hit their 'teens something happens to them. They go from fresh-faced children all innocence and naiveté to cynical, sneering know-it-alls who rebel against everything and respect no one. Maybe it's rushing hormones or the side effects of acne creams but whatever it is it raises hell with teachers who have to deal with these guys.
We're talking about junior high kids and, more specifically, ninth-graders in the high school. Every teacher at Mackenzie High fears ninth-graders just as every sane person instinctively fears venomous reptiles and spiders. When I made out the new teaching schedules for the coming semester the first question everyone wanted answered was, "How many ninth-grade classes did you give me?" with none being the best answer and more than two requiring the prompt filing of a grievance with the union.
It happens that I sometimes gave a teacher new to the department, if they were strong and healthy, as many as three ninth-grade classes because it's only right that a new person be taken advantage of, but not even the heartiest and most robust teacher can deal with four classes full of the these guys in a single day.
I recall one occasion when I had a former pro football player subbing in my department. He'd been forced into early retirement by a severe case of housemaid's knee after playing guard for six years in the NFL and was contemplating a career in teaching. This was his very first assignment and he was naive to say the least; he scoffed at the idea of mere kids being too tough for him to handle.
"Why," he said disdainfully, "I'm not afraid of no ninth-grade kids, not after bumpin' heads with the best linemen in the NFL for six years. You just give me the schedule and I'll show you some real teachin'."
Survival Rule: Take advantage of teachers new to the school; it's only fair that they should pay their dues and, besides, if it's you or them it may as well be them.
"Well, now," I said, "NFL linemen might be one thing, but I'm talking about our ninth-grade world history kids." I scrutinized him up and down and measured the cut of his jib, so to speak. "Have you ever been in a classroom full of these guys when they mutinied and found a dozen of them between you and the door?"
"No," he said, "but I've faced some of the toughest dudes in pro ball and never backed down yet."
"I can't talk you out of this madness?"
"Hell, no, gimme the schedule."
So I gave him the four classes. Hey, what did I know? Maybe he could do it. He certainly looked capable enough. The guy stood six-foot-six and must have weighed about two-fifty or so, and that would make him almost as big as some of the kids and give him a fighting chance, anyway. Besides, he asked for it.
I dropped by after his first class and inquired as to how things were going. He was still able to manage a weak smile and remarked that it was a little different than he thought it would be. After the second class he suffered some heavy heart palpitations and had a wild look in his eye, but he struggled gamely on to the third one.
I was in my office after the third class and he hurried in peering over his shoulder as though pursued by all the demons of hell. Throwing himself on his knees, he begged and pleaded with me to let him out of the fourth class claiming he was an orphan and hadn't been in his right mind when he'd agreed to take the assignment but I stood firm.
"Go on back in there before you lose your nerve," I said. "Remember, you spent six years in the NFL, you've bumped heads with the best linemen in pro ball. Hey, are you going to let a bunch of kids run you off the field?"
Whatever happened, I didn't want him chickening out on me because it would be a major blow to his self-esteem and, besides, I'd have to cover the class myself and I'd just sent my whip to the cleaners. But it wasn't any good.
He begged and pleaded some more and then got a crafty look in his eye and left, ostensibly to return to class but actually he left by the back door and was never seen in these parts again. I later heard he was working as a sponge diver in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean and was glad to have a good job with a real future.
But none of this gives us any real insight into what makes a ninth-grader so formidable when encountered in groups larger than one. How can a class of school children wreak such havoc that strong men break and the gods avert their eyes and pretend they don't see what's going on?
Survival Rule: If required to teach ninth-graders, start on Prozac at once. (And see if you can get the kids to take it, too.)
Let's take a closer look at our average ninth-graders and see if we can learn anything about their nature and habits. For one thing, their average age is around eighteen years with the full age range running from thirteen to twenty-four, depending on their early success in the public schools and the leniency of their parole officers.
The mean ninth-grader (as in vicious or average, whichever you prefer) will weigh upwards of 200 pounds and be able to knock a Clydesdale to its knees with either hand. The girls will be fully developed and comely. These "students" have an attention span of about three minutes if it's something they're really interested in like a circus, say, or a parade with clowns and crippled WW II veterans keeling over dead every block or so. As you can imagine, it's not an easy thing for the beleaguered teacher to match circuses and parades for excitement so any chance of holding a ninth-grader's attention for very long is almost nil.
They'll be tardy about forty times a semester and absent an average of twenty-five days in a term only ninety days long. (See the chapter on Hooky Players.) It's considered a loss of face to appear in class with your textbooks and supplies and it's a tragic social error to pass a test with a score any higher than the lowest possible passing grade required. Anyone so ill bred as to be a good student is made a laughingstock and is pelted with spitballs and jibes and sometimes gets the crap kicked out of him.
Survival Rule: Be subtle and they'll never know what the hell you're up to.
Anyway, let me tell you how it was when I had to cover one of these classes for a teacher in my department who showed the white feather and went home early one day just because some hooligans smashed four of her fingers in a door. Our own surgeon was willing to operate right here in our school clinic but the teacher petulantly insisted on a doctor who was sober.
Relying on my guerrilla training with its emphasis on surprise, I didn't go to the classroom until a minute or two after the bell because if I arrived any earlier the kids would see they had a sub and they'd split to roam the halls starting fires and riots. Instead, I skulked around a corner and waited for a chance to catch them unawares, then I rushed them before they could rally their forces. Two or three always got away, of course, but what the hell you only do what you can.
Once in the room the first job is to get them into seats and try to establish a little order and that's not easy to do because they're standing on windowsills and desktops, rummaging through the teacher's desk drawers, writing obscenities on the chalkboard, throwing lighted matches at one another, dancing, shredding textbooks, and generally high on a crazy anarchy trip.
In addition to striking real fear into your heart, it's also the moment of truth for the teacher because the next seconds will decide your fate in this situation. Ninth-graders can sense weakness and indecision the moment either makes an appearance and it brings out the blood lust in them. You have to assert yourself right from the start and let them know who's going to run things in that room.
For example, on the day in question I used my hide-around-the-corner trick and took them by surprise, trapping all of them in the room except one speedy little devil who oozed through my outstretched arms like eighty-five pounds of quicksilver pouring down a flight of stairs.
Inside, an insane babble mixed with outraged cries.
"What?!" a kid in a red hat demanded. "Ain't Ms. Johnson here?"
"Hey, man, we got a sub!" another said.
"What happened to Ms. Johnson, man?" another shouted.
"Okay," I said, going into my act, "let's get in those seats. Put that chair down, Slick, and sit in it."
"He called you Slick, Louie."
"All you guys there," I said, "get down off the windowsills. Don't you know if somebody falls out of the window I'll have to make out a report? Christ, I've got enough paperwork to do already."
A fat kid snatched a tall, skinny kid's hat off and tossed it out of the window.
"What'd you do that for?" the skinny kid said.
Survival Rule: Studies show that a smiling teacher is regarded as weak so scowl a lot.
The fat kid laughed and the other guy hit him with a sneaky right cross before the hittee could rise from his chair. I bounded over to the window and broke up the ensuing fight by pointing a finger at each fighter and threatening permanent expulsion to the next guy who threw a punch. Gazing quickly around, I called on all my many years' experience in the trenches making crucial character judgments and chose a lad I knew instinctively could be trusted.
"Hey, pal" I said, "run down and get that hat for me, will you? I'll tell Ms. Johnson to give you an 'A' for the day."
He grinned and scampered out and the skinny kid took up his post at the window to oversee the retrieval of his property.
I'd no sooner got my record book back from a kid who was sitting at the teacher's desk laboriously changing all his grades written in blue ink to higher scores with a red ballpoint pen when a cry from the window drew my attention.
"Hey, teacher, he's stealin' my hat!"
I peered through the window to see the unscrupulous thief sprinting off down the sidewalk, the grin still on his mug and waving his newly acquired hat in the air. I looked at the skinny kid and shrugged. What the hell did I know?
Survival Rule: Don't trust the kids, especially the ones who look most trustworthy.
I managed to get some semblance of order and began taking the roll.
"Rogers, Benny," I called out.
"Ben Rogers?" I called again.
"There go Benny," a kid in the third row said, pointing to another guy sitting five rows away from his assigned seat.
"All right, Benny," I said, "get over here in your own seat."
"I'm in my own seat," Benny said.
"Not according to this chart, you're not. Ms. Johnson has you marked on the seating chart as sitting in this seat right here and that's where you're going to sit."
"But Ms. Johnson move me here, didn't she, Juan?"
"Yeah," Juan lied.
"Benny," I said, "I don't care if the governor moved you to that seat, the chart says you sit here and I don't want to discuss it any further. Now move or I'll come back there and grab hold of you and turn you every way but loose."
This last statement produced a tense moment or two while everybody tried to figure out what was happening. They looked at Benny and back at me and a few started to laugh because it was obvious I wasn't really going back there and do anything to Benny, a young man weighing in at 200 pounds and possessed of fifteen-inch forearms. Even Benny laughed and I knew I was in the clear.
"Okay, man," he said, getting up, "I'll sit there but you're puttin' me in the wrong seat."
"Okay, Benny, that's cool. Where's Carmelita Juarez?"
"She quit," a girl in the first row said. "She's pregnant."
"Oh, pregnant, eh? Okay, we'll check her off. Where's Agnes Sosnowski?"
And so it went. Everybody played musical chairs while the attendance was being taken and I never knew whether I'd already marked somebody present or absent or even if he belonged in the class at all. I erased and crossed out names and added others until the record book looked like Jesse James' scratchpad and I finally quit in disgust. Almost twenty minutes squandered trying to take attendance and we hadn't even peeked into the Middle Ages yet.
I searched around and located Ms. Johnson's sub plans. She had written the following:
Sixth-hour world history, room 322. Have
class write answers to questions 1 thru 6
p. 243. Collect papers at end of the period.
If class finishes early, go over answers
orally. (They won't finish early.)
Special notes: Don't let Elroy go to the
lavatory, as he pisses on the radiator and
the custodian gets mad. Watch Billy, he sits by
the door, because he'll sneak out when you
aren't looking. (I looked for Billy and found
he'd already departed. Keep an eye on Wendy
and Thelma, they're vicious little agitators.
Don't upset Henry, he's on parole for
manslaughter and has a short fuse. First aid
stuff is in the closet.
Have a nice day.
I found a girl who knew how to write and had her put the assignment on the chalkboard while I watched the class for any signs of unrest.
Incidentally, I never write on the chalkboard with ninth-graders in the room because that would mean turning my back on them and no experienced veteran of the public school wars would ever commit so glaring a blunder.
Those who had books opened them to randomly selected pages and people began circulating around the room while they borrowed and loaned sheets of paper to write on and something to write with, all parties carrying on a lively conversation all the while.
"I need a pencil."
"Here go a pencil. Who got some paper?"
"How much you want for that weed?"
"Hey, quit steppin' on my shoe, man!"
"I'll step on your head if you don't shut up!"
"What page we on, Jose?"
"Who cares, man? Them pages is all the same, man."
Survival Rule: For better control, move your desk to the back of the room so you can watch them but they can't watch you.
After several minutes of this, everybody got more or less back to his seat and the lesson began in earnest. Five or six kids put their heads down on their desks and fell asleep as though drugged, long since having learned that this was the only sensible way to cope with world history. Four kids in a corner turned their desks around to form a playing surface and commenced their usual afternoon game of whist while two or three kibitzers watched attentively.
Rock music poured from a radio hidden somewhere in the room and a little guy in the back kept time with the music by stabbing a pocketknife into the desktop. The noise level in the room fell off until the decibel range was somewhere between a medium-sized foundry and a Baptist revival meeting deep in the Bible Belt, about par for an average ninth-grade classroom in Mackenzie High.
I passed the remaining time struggling to stay on top of things as best I could. Darting about the room in a frenzy, I put the card players out of business and turned my attention to the task of driving the loungers away from the window where they'd congregated to hurl oaths and challenges at passers-by.
I'd no sooner managed to beat them back from the window with the aid of a chair leg than I had to rout the card players again because they'd resumed their game the moment my attention was diverted by the crowd at the window. Meanwhile, I kept an ear cocked to try to track down the hidden radio (I never did find the damn thing) and on two occasions I had to go to the door to repel invasions by angry mobs of hall-wanderers.
With five minutes to go in the period, I'd already broken up three card games, interceded in two fights and driven off two all-out attacks by outsiders, put down a major mutiny and nipped another one in the bud, cleared the riffraff from the windows six times, dispatched a brace of thugs to their counselors for "guidance", i.e., electric shock treatments, summoned our security forces to haul Henry the Manslaughter Kid away when he went berserk because I wouldn't let him pound little Phil Jordan into a pulp, and had to call the custodian with his mop after I refused to give Elroy a pass to the lavatory and the little schmuck pissed all over the floor.
Survival Rule: Cultivate the custodian. Not only is he invariably smarter than the principal but he'll prove more useful, too.
I was applying a tourniquet to my arm to stop the flow of blood from a nasty bite inflicted by Wanda Sims when I took her cigarettes away because she insisted on smoking in the room when somebody pulled a fire alarm and the place exploded with bits and pieces of ninth-graders disintegrating all over the landscape.
I tried to form them up in a line to evacuate the building but it was like trying to corral a roomful of cats after a hundred-pound mastiff had been thrown into their midst. The kids thundered from the room and raced off in every direction and I sneaked back to my office in the confusion to tend my wounds and roundly curse Ms. Johnson for going home early.
So now you can see why we all fear ninth-grade students at Mackenzie High and why you'll want to avoid contact with the species if at all possible. If you do end up facing a roomful of these guys, reread this chapter and memorize its rules and you'll have at least a fifty-fifty chance of coming out of the experience with a whole skin.
As it stands now, though, ninth-graders all over America are swiftly driving each of us to an early retirement, an early grave, or the home for mental defectives and twisted pedagogues.
Don't you be one of them.