At school we recently completed the state test. Somehow, most students (and teachers) in the district think that after the test is done, no more more learning take place during those last two weeks of school. No such luck for my students.
That didn’t go over so well on Friday, despite my best efforts to assure my students that we had some new, fun projects during the last two weeks of school. That day, other classes were doing literally nothing, and some students were even freely running around the school. My class was so upset that we were learning while everybody else was running around free that they tried to stage a protest of sorts.
It all started in the morning when a girl said, “Man, this class is booty.” In the Delta, saying something is ‘booty’ is like saying something sucks. So, one girl says it in the morning and her two girlfriends started saying, “Ain’t it? All we do is work. He’s a booty teacher.” Normally I just ignore these kinds of comments, despite the disrespect. I’ve been trying to pick my battles wisely. Well, by afternoon the whole class took a cue from the three girls and started in on the complaining and disrespect while I was transitioning from one activity to the next. Having the whole class complain and say, “Ain’t it? He’s a booty teacher!” made me draw the line.
I kept my cool. I told everyone to read the social studies chapter and be quiet while I “take care of some business.”
Calling a parent in the middle of the day is kind of a “nuclear option.” When nothing else works, you can get a parent on the phone, and s/he will get a child to behave because the child knows that a whooping will be coming that night. It’s seen as a sign of weakness as a teacher, so you really only want to use it when necessary. Up to that point I hadn’t done it.
I called girl #1 outside, leaving my foot in the door so that I could see what was going on inside and to leave it open just enough so that the students could hear the phone call. I got girl #1’s mom on the phone, and the conversation went like this:
Me: Ms. ________, I’m sorry to bother you during the day, but I had to call because I’m having some problems with [girl #1] today.
Parent: Oh really? What’s she been doing?
Me: Well, [girl #1] and all her little girlfriends think that because the MCT is over we don’t have anything else to do in class and get to play all day. I’ve still got things to teach these kids and all I’m getting from her is attitude attitude attitude whenever I try to get something done. I can’t get things done when she starts giving me the attitude that she’s got. I was hoping you could have a talk with her about her attitude.
Parent: Well put her on the phone, Mr. Hughes!
Student: (listening) Yes, ma’am … Yes, ma’am … Yeah — I mean — Yes, ma’am … (looking at me) I’m sorry … I’m sorry for my attitude, Mr. Hughes.
Me: (student hands phone to me) Ma’am?
Parent: Mr. Hughes, thank you for calling me about this. She knows that she could miss the trip to St. Louis if she keeps up her attitude and knows what she has coming when she gets home.
I sent her back into the classroom and called girl #2 out. Meanwhile, girl #3 (who knows she is next) starts hyperventilating, saying she has a headache, etc. I told her to go to the nurse’s office. After girl #3 left, I tried the girl #2’s mom, but none of my numbers worked. After telling me where her mom works, I made her walk to the office to get a phone book for me. I finally got in touch with her mom’s office (an orthodontist). Here’s how that conversation went:
Me: Hello. May I please speak with ________?
Receptionist: I’m sorry, she’s with a patient right now. Can I have her call you back?
Me: Oh, okay, that would be great. This is Mr. Hughes, her daughter’s teacher. Can you have her call me on my cell phone whenever possible?
Receptionist: Oh, her daughter’s teacher? Let me see if I can get her.
(by this point the second girl is already crying)
Me: Hello Ms. ________, I’m really sorry to disturb you at work, but I’ve had some real problems with [girl #2] today.
Parent: That’s ok. What is the problem?
Me: Well, as you might know, the MCT is over with and [girl #2] doesn’t want to do anything in class anymore. She keeps saying that my class is ‘booty’, that I’m a ‘booty’ teacher, and that everything is ‘booty’. The thing is that it starts with her and her two girlfriends follow what she does. Then the whole class thinks it’s ok to show me that level of disrespect–
Parent: Mr. Hughes, is she there?
Me: Yes, ma’am, she is. Would you like to speak with her?
Parent: Yes, please.
Student: … (sobbing) … But he makes us do all this work– … Yes ma’am … (still sobbing) … I’m sorry, Mr. Hughes … *sniff* … I won’t be disrespectful anymore, Mr. Hughes …
Me: (student hands phone to me) Ma’am?
Parent: Mr. Hughes, does your school allow you to use corporal punishment?
Me: Yes, ma’am, it does.
Parent: Well, I give you my full permission to use it. Whatever you need to do, Mr. Hughes, you have my full permission to do it.
Me: If I feel I need to do that, I will, ma’am. [of course I’d never hit a student]
Parent: You tell her that I authorized you to do that.
Me: Thank you, ma’am.
As my conversation was wrapping up, I noticed that all of the students in the room got out of their seats and rushed to the back of the room. Looking in, I saw that girl #3 (who had since returned) fainted and fell on the floor from her (supposed) ailment. I had one of my students run to the office, since we still had no phone in my portable classroom. The nurse came to check out the girl and said that she was fine. The nurse needed to get in touch with girl #3’s mother over this. Girl #3 gave the nurse what I think was a fake phone number because she knew I didn’t have a current phone number for her house, and by giving the nurse the number, I could then get it.
After all the commotion, I realized one of two things was true about girl #3: either (1) she was really scared and the very real threat of me calling her mom was sufficient enough to make her hyperventilate or (2) she put on an elaborate (and gutsy) performance, faking her fainting in order to avoid the wrath of her mother. In either case, she wouldn’t be calling anything booty again. So I didn’t bother telling her mom about it.
After I got home that day, I was taking a nap. I got a call from girl #1. She asked me to call her mom and tell her that she was good for the remainder of the day. I explained that, while I had no more problems with her, she wasn’t exactly good, since all we had to do was go watch a movie in the auditorium with the rest of the school. She asked me to call her mom anyway. I told her to have her mom call me, which never happened.
Not two minutes later, my phone rang again. This time it was girl #2. Here’s the final conversation:
Student: (sobbing) Mr. Hughes, it’s [girl #2]. I just wanted to say I’m sorry for being disrespectful today. (pause with crying) I’m sorry for ever doing anything wrong in your class this year …
Parent in Background: What’s the matter? You can’t talk now?
Student: (sobbing) … and I’m sorry for calling your class booty.
We had a productive and respectful final two weeks.