Vignette #2 – Fort Wayne, IN – Middle School Social Studies – Substitute Teacher

The five language arts classes all had a packet of worksheets that they were to work on during class but which were not due until Monday.

For many students, the moment you say something isn’t due until the next day their first reaction is to put off working. “It’s not due today, so I’ll do it later.”

All of these classes required an initial effort to convince them to settle down but once settled they worked well for the entire period. One of the incentives I offer students when there seems to be sufficient work to keep them busy for most of the period, is to promise them five to ten minutes of free time at the end of the period, provided they cooperate. Each of these classes received some free time.

As usual, there were a number of students in each class who did not work very hard but they did, at least, make a show of doing the assignment.

After a great day, the last period was a different story. This particular middle school ends the day with a 25-minute period that is called SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). On this day the students were to finish watching the movie Shrek, which they had begun the previous day.

Problems began as soon as students began arriving.

The telephone began ringing as students arrived and while I was taking the call an argument erupted between two students. One student apparently has a history of problems as he was seated, by himself, at a small table against the front wall. He was a tall, thin youngster who wore big glasses with thick lenses. Not infrequently, students of this ilk are the target for harassment by many of the other students.

I approached the students right away and separated them. The second student was quite angry and did not want to settle down. He insisted that the other boy had thrown his calculator into the trash and he was insisting that the boy dig it out of the tall waste basket. The accused student did not deny that he had tossed the calculator rather he insisted that the incident had begun when the other boy hit him. Several times the second student would say that he was going to get the other boy kicked out of school. He said that one more referral and the boy would be suspended.

As the two would not stop arguing, I took them out in the hall way but, in spite of my efforts, the argument only got louder and more heated. Finally, I sent the second student to the office just to get them separated. I immediately went to the phone to notify the office of my action, explaining that I could not determine who was the instigator but just needed to separate the boys. What I did not explain is that my gut instincts told me that the second boy was harassing the first and that this is probably an ongoing pattern. In the meantime, students were bounding around the classroom engaged in a full menu of horseplay with only a handful seated at their desks. I then began to try to get them in their seats so I could take attendance. Another student had started the DVD player but, although the movie was playing, only a few were watching. Taking attendance was complicated by the fact that the seating chart was full of scratched out names with others inserted and there were few last names. I never did get all of the students in their seats nor did I finish attendance.

By this time one student was chasing another around the classroom. The lead student dived to the floor and the other grabbed his shoe and jerked it off of his foot and tried to throw it into the waste basket. Before I could intervene a handful of other students had joined the fray. As I was attempting to restore order, I heard the telephone ring, which given the noise level in the room was, itself, remarkable. By the time I got to the T.V., which was directly above the telephone, lowered the volume and then picked up the phone, the ruckus throughout the room had escalated.

The telephone call was from another teacher who was attempting to reach the individual for whom I was subbing.
During the call three additional students had joined the two who were chasing and wrestling each other. When I was able to separate the five students who, thankfully, were engaged in rough play rather than actually fighting in anger, I glanced at the clock and it was 2:32. The last period of the day ends at 2:35. It was then that I noticed that a full third of the students were gone. They had taken advantage of the diversion and had left early. It was then that end of the day announcements began, many of which were bus changes. The remaining students, many of whom were heading for the door, paid no attention at all to the announcements. The noise in the room was still so loud it is doubtful that they could have heard the announcements had they tried.

By the time the bell rang, only four students were still in their seats, waiting patiently. Although I was too preoccupied during the abbreviated period to notice, I have no doubt that these same four students sat quietly in their seats for the entire twenty-five minutes of the period. These four pupils are examples of the other heroes in our public school systems. They sit quietly amidst the turmoil, doing their best to follow directions and do their assignments, often unnoticed by their teacher. At the end of the period these same students go on to their next classes where they do the same thing, day after day.

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