We’re not all gonna die

positivity.jpgIt’s possible that those of you who have been around for a while have been surprised at how little I’ve been talking about my new job.  And the simple fact is I haven’t talked about it much because one of the things I’ve been trying really hard to work on with this job, for my own mental health, is leave work at work.

My new school has some issues.  Some fucking major issues.  I’m going to leave it at that for right now.


I realized something at my last school, something I know I’ve said here before, but something I need to keep reminding myself of, over and over again, until it sinks the hell in.  When you don’t work in the classroom, and you don’t know any of the kids, there’s gonna be a good chunk of change where the only kids you interact with are the ones who are catching your attention, and the vast majority of the time the way those kids are going to catch your attention is with negative behaviors.  If 400 kids are in a hallway at one time and three of them yell “motherfucker” at the top of their lungs, my takeaway is going to be these fucking kids just swear in the hallways like it doesn’t even matter and the fact that 397 of those 400 kids weren’t cussing in the hall is going to go overlooked.

In a school with 800 kids, if 95% of the kids get through their day doing what they’re supposed to do and don’t get into any trouble, 5% of the kids is forty kids in the office, which in an eight-hour day is five kids an hour, or one kid in trouble every twelve minutes.  And those kids aren’t going to be evenly distributed– 2/3 of them will be after lunch, for example, and it’s really fucking easy to focus on those 40 and not the 760 who didn’t get into any trouble that day.  And that skews your perspective, right?

I know I’ve said it before.  I need to keep saying it to keep my shit together.

Lemme tell a story.

We have both a teacher shortage and an overcrowding issue.  There are some classes in our building that are massively too big as a result, and even just a couple of teacher absences can cause a cascade situation where we’re constantly having to find teachers to cover classrooms, because getting subs is basically impossible.  And we have a couple of classes that more or less haven’t actually had a real teacher yet this year because of that.

I got back from lunch at 12:45.  About five minutes after I walked back into the building I got a buzz on my radio from my boss.  She needed me to cover a class for a period.  Now, I’m literally the last resort for this a lot of the time for various reasons related to my actual job.  They don’t want me doing classroom coverage, so if they’re calling me in it’s because every other available adult has already been pressed into service.

She tells me I’m covering one of those overcrowded classrooms which has never had a real teacher.  It’s basically a study hall at this point because there’s nobody to write daily curriculum for the class, and most of the kids in there at this point have learned that whoever is trying to make them work today isn’t going to be there tomorrow and so it’s, to put it delicately, challenging to motivate them to do anything.  And I admit it, I groaned and rolled my eyes, because I didn’t really want to, but fuck it I’m gonna pitch in.  And then she says to me “It’s 12:30 to 1:11 and then take them to lunch.”

I look at my watch.  It’s 12:50.  

“You mean this class started twenty minutes ago?”

She looks at her watch, and without saying another word turns on her heel and fucking sprints out of the office.


I follow her.  She heads to the classroom at a high rate of speed.

Where 30-some-odd eighth graders were sitting in their seats, quietly having a study hall, and making so little noise that for twenty fucking minutes, no one had noticed that there was no adult in the room with them.  

Now: this is on the grown-ups.  Somebody fucked up somewhere.  And the kids got reminded, somewhat vigorously, that maybe somebody should take the initiative to go to the damn office and let us know if no one is in the room.  But it’s kind of hard to get mad at a group of kids who are sitting and quietly, if not working, at least goofing off in a non-obnoxious manner– and a couple of those kids who had pencils in their hand and were clearly doing homework were not kids I would have expected to make those decisions on their own, so there was absolutely a bit of positive peer pressure going on there.

And I sat in that damn room until lunchtime and not for one second did I have to ask a kid in the room to do a single damn thing.  My presence in the room made no difference whatsoever to anything anybody was doing.  It didn’t have to.

And I’ll tell you what: a minute before they were supposed to go to lunch, I did something  I’ve not done very many times in my career: I flashed the lights in the room a couple of times (still hot as fuck, so the lights were out) and got everyone’s attention– to the point where they were closing their computers and turning volume off, which blew my mind– and I thanked them.  I basically said exactly what was in this post, only I said it in a minute instead of a thousand words.  I thanked them for being part of that chunk of kids who quietly did the right thing instead of god only fucking knows what chaos they might have been getting up to in there.  And I gotta say: my outlook on my fucking job got improved today in a lot of ways.

I’mma bring the little bastards doughnuts on Monday,  I think.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

4 thoughts on “We’re not all gonna die

    1. Every school I’ve ever taught at has had class periods between 40 and 45 minutes, except for one year where we were on a 7-period day instead of 8 and they were a bit longer. Now, there’s a whole rant out there about how our schedule is a problem, but the number of minutes specifically isn’t that unusual.


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