Watching the chair fly through the office door, I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to be good.”
I had not come to Vice Principal’s office looking for a fight, or even an argument. I wanted to talk about a new chart that we could use to track the daily progress of our kids who were in danger of failing their classes for the semester, and hopefully get some of them back on track. Someone had other ideas.
I hear that it started suddenly. Josh (not his real name) was in the office with his mom to talk about his re-entry to school after participating in a large-scale fight. The conversation wasn’t going well and the Vice Principal had said that perhaps today was not the best day to have this meeting and that the three of them should try again tomorrow.
Josh was unhappy. We could tell right away because he swept all of the binders off of their shelf and onto the floor, before grabbing the chair he had been sitting in and flinging it through the door and into the introduction to my story.
As he fled the office, Josh ran straight into me, his arms flailing, one fist connected with my face, the other with my shoulder. Turning around, Josh spied the guillotine paper cutter and grabbed it off of a table. My teacher readers know well the equipment I am writing about and their minds have probably already gone where my mind went when I saw him heave the paper cutter. A guillotine paper cutter is a fourteen-inch blade attached to a base on one end. The blade is sharp enough and heavy enough to cut through twenty or thirty sheets of paper in one “ker-chunk!”
In my mind’s eye, I pictured the huge gash on Josh’s hand. The Vice Principal imagined the paper cutter hurdling through the air directly at the other two children in the room, inflicting horror-movie injuries.
While his mom screamed, “How can you be doing this? I didn’t raise you like this!” Josh raised the cutter over his head. I snatched it from his hands and set if behind me. As Josh sunk into a chair, The Vice Principal and I began talking softly to him. “It’s going to be okay, Josh,” we said over and over. “Calm down; just breath; we can start making this better now. You’re going to be okay.”
Security entered the room to see Josh sitting calmly in a chair, head in his hands, crying. The Vice Principal and I were still talking calmly to Josh, thinking that the worst was over and that we were on the road to recovery. Our attendance officer was calming mom down. The police had been called and were on the way.
Josh calmly got up. Reentered the inner office. We thought he was moving to shake off some of his adrenaline, but we were wrong. Instead, he exploded again. He swept the coffee maker from the table, smashing it against a bookcase. He tore the printer off of the desk and threw it to the ground. When on of the security guards and I grabbed him, he leapt into the air and kicked the desk lamp, crushing it against the wall.
Another security officer joined the two of us in wrestling Josh to the ground. “Let me up!” he shouted. “No.” three of us replied. We got a handcuff onto on wrist, turned him over, and cuffed his other hand behind his back.
“Ring!” went the bell; and I had to leave to teach my classes.
Later in the day, I found out that Josh continued his violent outbursts until the ambulance arrived. It finally took seven adults to strap Josh onto the gurney for the ride to the hospital. This had not been the first time he had been admitted because he posed a danger to himself and others. “It’s been like this every time he looses his temper,” mom explained, surveying the destruction. “My house looks just like this.” Later, we found out that Josh had been severely beaten since early childhood. His father is currently serving time for the abuse.
Days later, once I finally got over the shock, I began to wonder about Josh; about his childhood; about his illness. I wonder what his test scores are going to look like this year. I wonder how his teachers might be evaluated if the school used Josh’s tests scores for the Value-Added Measure. I wonder what the so-called reformers would say if they had been in the room with Josh instead of me. Would they still claim that poverty, or living in violent neighborhoods is no “excuse” and that a great teacher could compensate for Josh’s circumstances and help Josh succeed on the high-stakes test? Would they disagree with me when I think that Josh has bigger issues to deal with this year than the Pythagorean theorem?
I can’t help but wonder: WWRD? What Would Rhee Do?