It’s amazing just how much hallways comprise the problem-solving part of my day, compared to the actual amount of time I am in them, instead of the classroom.
But in our program for secondary students with emotional and behavioral problems, hallways (like lunchrooms or busses) comprise that part of the space-time continuum that is just so fraught with issues. Part of the reason for this is the somewhat unstructured quality of the time.
Sure, they are supposed to just go between the classrooms. We don’t even have a full “passing period”, because allowing these students to loiter around the hallways or hang out together in the bathrooms just invites problems with bullying, making interpersonal or sometimes illegal deals, petty theft, tardiness and so on. Instead, we just herd the troops to and fro, like so many wayward cats.
And still there’s all sorts of nonsense that goes on in the hallways:
- banging on lockers
- hollering comments into the open doors of classrooms
- wandering into non-target classrooms to just show off
- swinging from door lintels (the tops of the door frames)
- bouncing basketballs
- trying to open the doors to the fire extinguishers or circuit breaker cabinet
- opening up unused lockers that don’t have locks, or testing the handles of lockers to see if they’re not locked
- digging the trash cans or paper recycling bins to look for interesting items
- punching the elevator button
- kicking away door-stops from open doors
- climbing on the outside of the stairway railing
- rattling the security gate chain
- circulating out and back in the double outside doors “I was just seeing what the weather is like!” (amazingly, it’s the same as the weather visible from all the classroom and hallway windows)
- running fingers through some of the letters on the cafeteria’s menu (written in dry-erase marker), to change the words to anything remotely scandalous
- checking all the coin return slots in the vending machines
- bouncing off the walls (literally)
- kicking the bathroom door open (regardless of whether or not they’re going into the bathroom)
- pulling out verboten cells phones to text (“I was just checking the time!”)
- listening to verboten mp3 players (“Other Teacher lets me!”)
- walking into the wrong classroom because they’ve suddenly “forgotten” what their class schedule is that they’ve had for the past 24 weeks (as opposed to a couple lost souls who really do have memory blips)
And then there’s the interpersonal stuff:
- whispered slurs
- hollered insults
- stepping on someone’s flopping sneaker laces
- “bumping” into a locker door while someone’s using it
- “gansta” gestures (real or made-up)
- pantomiming smoking a marijuana joint
- the old-fashioned rude finger
- the equally old-fashioned “kick me” sign
- malicious gossip
When a single student goes to the water fountain or bathroom, to visit with a counsellor or the school nurse, to catch a bus, to make a special trip to their locker, they are escorted by a staff member. Before school starts and when the last bell rings, there are numbers of staff members in classrooms, hallways, by doorways, and out by the busses. It only sounds like a prison; in reality, it’s just a couple of school hallways with frazzled staff trying to keep eyes on several dozen of the district’s most difficult secondary students.
Sometimes we’re out in the hallway because we’ve asked an acting-out student to leave the classroom:
- the student is having an exceptionally juvenile temper-tantrum (that would be one the seventh-graders, who are like whining toddlers with adolescent hormones and cuss words, and yes, a few times someone has lain on the floor to kick and cry because they couldn’t have their way)
- the student is creating a big scene and we’re removing them from the audience
- a student is stuck in a meltdown/rant and needs a safer place than the social boiling pot of the classroom to work through it and regain their composure
- the student is having a familial crisis and is too emotionally fragile to focus on work while surrounded by their peers
- the student is unable to resist teasing a peer because they know the peer is equally unable to resist over-reacting dramatically, and we’re trying to interrupt the whole chain reaction (for the ninth time this morning)
- or the target peer has been getting better at ignoring the instigator, and the person we’re removing is one of the audience members who excels at egging-on the antagonists, like an enzyme in a particularly strong acid-base reaction
It’s one thing to take an emotionally-fragile student out to the hall so they can sit on a chair and take ten or fifteen minutes to calm down. This is the therapeutic side of taking time out, and when it’s over, the long-term problem may not be solved, but at least it’s manageable again.
It’s also much the same thing when we’re working as a surrogate frontal lobe for these students who have various disorders that affect their “executive functioning”. We know that until the melt-down or crisis has passed, they are literally unable to intellectually process what happened and what they might be able to do differently next time.
But it’s quite another thing when we’re taking a student out of the classroom because they are being oppositional. Any student can act up once in a while, but there are a few who are here because they do so frequently over the day.
(It’s a bit of a misnomer to say that I “take” someone out of the classroom; we have a No Physical Contact policy, so I can only ask or instruct a student to leave. If the disorderly student is too defiant to leave and is making any kind of teaching impossible, then we ask the rest of the students to leave. Those compliant students usually get some kind of treat for being so helpful. The oppositional students find this so “unfair” that we rarely have to resort to clearing the classroom. They may protest overmuch when asked to take a time out, but they’d rather save face with cussing and door-kicking than be disempowered by everyone else’s coöperation.)
Sometimes these sorts of belligerent students will take advantage of being away from multiple staff members as an opportunity for being especially rude or manipulative. The scene may start out with my request for everyone to take their seats now that the bell has rung:
“Shut up, bitch! You can’t tell me what to do.”
“Okay, that’s a time out,” I announced with a sigh, and opened up the door for the lad who then swaggered out and began dropping the “F-bomb” in a repetitious barrage (as verb, adjective and noun) well after the door had shut behind us. Not not only did he refuse to sit down, but then he also tried to order me about, insisting that he should be given leave to go home “because all the teachers are so fucking demanding and full of crap”. I was not even going to respond to that obvious attempt to pull me into an absurd debate — it was merely intended to be a distraction from his own personal responsibility, as was his next protest,
“It’s all your fault that I keep getting into trouble!”
Hmn, the fact that I was hardly the only person documenting his misdeeds was apparently irrelevant … I re-iterated that he needed to have a seat. Once he finally quit kicking the wall and sat down, two minutes later he commanded,
“You need to go look at the clock!”
The lack of a clock in the hallway was a just ploy that we should go into an office or back into the classroom, where he could make another scene. “I don’t need to; I have a clock on me,” I explained quietly.
“You’re not obeying me!”
This prompted a raised eyebrow from me, as I kept on documenting the precipitating event. The scene continued on in a similar vein for several more minutes, until eventually the disorderly youth calmed down enough to go onto his next class. (No, he never apologised; he was, as ever, too full of defiance and entitlement.)
Sometimes these 10 to 15 minute time-out breaks in the hallway have that sense of protracted time one normally experiences when stuck in patient resignation in an airport queue, while some inflexible, rude schmuck at the head of the line is pitching a hissy fit because their own own lack of planning or fact-checking has caused their life to not go as they think it should, and now they are blaming everyone else.
At times like these, a thick stack of math pages to grade seems like a delightful luxury, especially if the students are elsewhere and I can just sit in the relative peace and quiet, and rock ever-so-slightly while focusing uninterrupted on one thing at a time.
Hallways can be tiring, even when the journey is only 50 feet. Sometimes I can distract myself from the fatigue by marvelling at the sheer outrageousness of quotes like, “It’s all your fault that I keep getting into trouble!” and “You’re not obeying me!”
As teachers everywhere exclaim, “You can’t make this stuff up!”
Sometimes we wish we were.