Posted by: Magistra | February 24, 2008

Friday Fight

Friday morning, two of my students were suspended for actions they took in my classroom. Let’s call them Frank and Bob. Bob walks across the room to get his work. I didn’t see this, but on the way back Frank says Bob looked at him. The first one I hear speaking is Frank, essentially saying, “You wanna piece of me?” (only in more current slang). Bob responds, but much more quietly so I am not sure what he said, but I assume it was in kind. Both boys are now standing up, staring at each other, speaking this garbage. I put on the Teacher Voice and tell them to sit down and stop talking. Although they stop advancing on each other, they don’t stop talking or sit down. I really need to break their eye contact. So I walk over. The way their desks are, I have to get up close to break their eye contact. After they are forced to look at me and not each other, each boy sits down. Of course I now have to leave the immediate vicinity to get back to the telephone. In the time it takes me to call the office and say I need assistance immediately, both boys are back up, Bob’s friend is now also standing up, and the obnoxious girls in my class (none of these students is officially a gang member, but if pushed, most would pick Frank’s side) are now joining in, telling Frank he’s doing the right thing. Bob is starting to move towards the door (I later find out it’s because he’s telling Frank he won’t fight him in the classroom, but he’s ready to go outside to settle this), so I encourage him and his friend to step outside. Just as I’m getting them outside (with me standing in the doorway), one girl says, “I know where they live.” At this point, I use the Teacher Voice on all of them and tell them to stop talking and sit down. At first they just switch to whispering, but after the second command, they got the message. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably less than a minute before security was there. I sent Frank and the girl to the office first, and then later Bob and his friend.

Up to this point, I’ve been calm. I wasn’t really aware of feeling anything. Now that the moment is over, I feel the adrenaline racing through my body. If I hadn’t had 30 students watching me, it would have been really easy to just let the tears come and get it out. But there are 30 students, so the tears get shoved down and I do my best to hide my shaking hands behind my back. I tell them (again in Teacher Voice) that fighting and threats have absolutely no place in this classroom. When some of them start trying to defend Frank, I tell them we’re not going to talk about it. Now some of them want to know if I’m mad, or if I’m sad, and I’m not ready to tell them I’m both, neither, and way more than either. One girl says that just because two boys messed up, it’s not fair to take it out on all of them. Now I jump straight to being mad. Mad that they think tearing people’s names off their work (as has happened to Bob’s friend), jeering at students, and cheering Frank on weren’t a part of what just happened. So I tell them that we all contribute to the environment of this classroom and I paraphrase the line from the Holocaust. “First they came for the Jews, and I did nothing because I am not a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did nothing because I am not a Catholic. Then they came for the Gypsy’s, and still I did nothing because I’m not a Gypsy. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to do anything.” I’m sure I bungled it up, and I purposely left out homosexuals because I just couldn’t add that to our conversation right then, but it served its purpose. Whether they stopped talking because they saw my anger or because they understood the point I was trying to make, or a little bit of both, I don’t know. At the time, I didn’t really care.

It was nice when, later that day, I spoke with the assistant principal and he started the conversation by asking, “How did you stop them from throwing actual blows?” I don’t know how I thought the conversation would go, but it was unexpected and very nice to be complimented on handling the situation and to see his confidence in me go up. It was in great contrast to how my induction program advisor responded when I saw him. His first reaction was to ask if I was afraid at any point. I said no. Neither boy was going to hit me. Certainly, if I’d been between them and they’d really wanted to go at each other, I could have been accidentally shoved or tripped, but neither boy was going to attack me. Bob, in his messed up way, even showed respect for the classroom by saying the fight had to happen outside.

Then my advisor asked if even a part of me was thinking about leaving and if I was, he’d be happy to write me a letter of recommendation. At this point, I laughed. Leave? Because two teenage boys were idiots? I did remember to thank him for offering to write a letter, but his reaction still seems bizarre.

Writing this, two days later, I feel like I should make some larger point. After all, every high school teacher can tell a fight story. And maybe my advisor’s reaction is that point. That teachers deal with a lot of bad behavior and at some point, a line must be drawn. But I’m not seeing a meta-story here. I’m seeing two 9th grade boys, one of whom will become a father any day now, and the other who has a B- now after never even getting to 60% last semester. Two boys who messed up, and might keep messing each other up, but two boys who need to, and can, be better than that moment.


  1. It is a sign of respect for you that they sat down when you told them and didn’t want to fight in the classroom.

    You de-escalated that very nicely.

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