So there it was, 1995. I was 33 years old, just out of college as a non-traditional student and trying to get established as a professional educator in my old hometown. Oh, did I mention I was also a father of a three year old daughter and brand new baby boy? Can we say the pressure was on?
I quickly became known as the meanest, most strict substitute teacher in the school. I only had two rules, and I only ever enforced one of them. My rules were simple: Don't talk when I talk and Don't open the windows.
Now I had good reason for the rules. I grew up in this town, I knew these kids and their parents. I know the houses they live in, the jobs their parents wished they still had and I might have at one point dated their mother and drank beer with their father... maybe even in the same night! So, if we want learning to take place, you can not talk when I talk. If you ever broke this rule, I liked to point out you were doing an exceptional job on the windows. This compliment was always met with a deer in headlights puzzled look, until I said, "Now you need to work on the rule of not talking when I talk."
What I never told my students was that I was from that school. Half the gum under their desk might have been in my mouth. Those old teachers they bitched about were the same ones I was bitching about 16 years ago. And I was a student in this very building when SUBS filled in for regular teachers. You always knew what classroom had the sub, because the windows were open and all the loose notebook paper, chalkboard erasers, unguarded text books and even a bit of classroom furniture was piled up on the ground below the window as class after class tossed out momentos when the new guy wasn't looking. I refused to be that guy.
So my rules got a little laugh and class order was restored, but the ground beneath my classroom stayed evidence free. Only two times did I ever have a real conflict. Once on a warm fall afternoon I walked over and opened one of the windows to let in some fresh air. And the sweetest little girl in my 10th grade History class smiled and told me I was doing a good job of not talking! The other time was with a kid I had already kicked out of class the week before because of fighting, he came back in, walked across the classroom, threw open a window, and yelled to some guy in the courtyard two stories down. I could NOT believe that bastard opened one of my windows! So I had him suspended for violating one of my classroom rules.
Oh did I mention that when this kid opened the window and yelled, the guy outside looked up... and my kid spit in his face?
7 months ago