This Ended Up In The Garbage After A Rough Day Teaching At An Inner City School In Minneapolis.

This weave in the garbage is the culmination of my day with a 4th grade class in north Minneapolis.

I was told walking in they were tough, but I’ve been told that before. This class, it turned out, was better described as draining, and by the end of the day, depressing.

Typical of other classes this age, I knew as a sub I wasn’t going to get them to completely stay quiet. But throughout the morning, things worse than talking were taking place. Early on, I witnessed a boy and a girl, one right after the other, walk right up to a quiet girl and laugh as they called her names and played with her hair. She just sat there and pouted. I reported them for bullying.

Getting after these students, though, began to reveal a deeper problem: how sensitive some of their tempers were. The girl lashed out at me because it was the quiet girl’s fault for staring at her. A couple boys soon after showed their hair-trigger tempers when they mouthed off to each other and then stood up and bumped chests. “Whoa, boys!” I called. “Way out of line.”

That was nothing.

Chest bumps became pushing and swinging, and when an angry boy’s target wasn’t around, he might take it out by throwing books or tipping chairs. The girls got into it, too. Initially with over-dramatic, “Girl, you better shut your mouth!” types of arguments and later with fists.

Grateful for break and lunch, we got through the morning of reading and writing, myself having only helped a few students along. (This wasn’t a special school, by the way, designed for troubled children–just an area public school.)

Things continued to escalate in the afternoon. The fights got more physical and tantrums more severe and consistent. I can’t even remember all the episodes.

One boy punched a girl in the eye during math, her wails following.

At around 2:00, other students and myself cleaned up the classroom from a desk-flipping tantrum only to have a boy storm into the class five minutes before dismissal—from, I believe, his behavioral specialists’ room—and flip over seven more desks before being contained. This incident broke the corner off one desk and left items all over the floor.

In all, I broke up several fights and had to contain several students. We had some hard-working students in there, but I don’t know if this was a good thing or a waste.

When I was dumbfounded by an episode, another, more extreme one would occur. This was school! We had reading, writing, and math accompanied with kicks, screams, scratches, punches, and crying.

Some say the teacher should do more, or that it was because I was a sub. But this class being uninhibited, because I wasn’t their real teacher, simply made their anger and fear and frustrations all the more apparent. These poor kids. What’s the matter with people and communities that these little humans are so troubled and hurting!?

By the end I wasn’t pulling my hair out or angry. I just felt low.

It might be considered normal to have these sorts of schools—especially when compared to other cities—but then normal sucks.

Just a couple minutes after the seven desk flipping tantrum, the class was in a strange limbo getting ready for dismissal when two girls started swinging violently. I got in the middle, the one walking away with the other’s weave that ended up in the garbage. (You can see the corner of the desk in the pic, too.)

Ending on a high note, the girl who was being picked on earlier came up and gave me quiet hug goodbye. 

7 Responses

  1. Gracie

    I’m guessing the kids were acting out to both impress you and fulfill your racist ideal of what they would be like. I grew up, and attended school in, North Minneapolis. With consistent and caring teachers, children’s behavior was on par (or possibly better) than that of kids in your far-from-lilly-white Red Wing. However, when uppity white substitutes would come in an unconsciously project their racist expectations onto us, kids would act up. Children are not only remarkably resilient (far from “little humans” that “are so troubled and hurting,” they usually behave as we expect, whether that is poorly on with manners and grace. I guess I’m just trying to say that if you let go of the idea that these poor little kids are so different from you, you might get to see that you are the same.

    1. I’m not from Red Wing, so don’t insult them unnecessarily. And these kids are evidently hurting, thus the need to lash out as they did repeatedly. I feel bad they have to live with that much anger and fear. Race has nothing to do with it. I’m glad your experience in north Minneapolis was positive. Having taught and assisted in about dozen schools in Minneapolis, I’d have to say yours is an exception.

    2. Paul

      “I’m guessing the kids were acting out to . . . impress you”

      The principal or Superintendent needs to impress these kids with suspensions.
      Students deserve a better learning environment, one free from fist fights at least. Children should only be allowed in school when they can refrain from this outrageous behavior. Children who insist on acting like feral animals should do so in the streets. This changes schools from concrete and tile jungles to learning environments.
      For children who want to be students, school could be a refuge from the madness of this world instead of a prison where the madness is locked in and amplified.

  2. cassie

    I guess I missed where it said the substitute teacher was white. Was he or she??? Gracie, you cannot blame the teacher for these children’s behavior! My daughter is a teacher in a very poor school district and deals with this “crap” daily! It has nothing to do with race. I has to do with that these children do not feel secure and are hurting from lack of parenting and a secure environment. Children need discipline and I am not talking about spanking! They need to have a disciplined routine and household rules at home before the know how to behave socially.
    They need to have meals at scheduled times where they sit up to a table as a family to eat as often as is possible. They need 3 square meals a day. they need parents or caregivers that give them uninterrupted, 100% attention sometime everyday. they need a bed time. they need indoor rules and outdoor rules. and all rules need consequences if not followed. and the consequences need to be followed though with, and not be just idle threats! Read Dr. Dobson and you will be a sucesful parent and have successful and likeable children that are secure and have good social skills. Certainly these children who act up like this do not feel loved and have low self-esteem.

  3. M

    Gracie: Racist ideal? Are you kidding me? In what universe is it acceptable for children of any race or income level to behave in such a disrespectful manner? I attended elementary school in a troubled neighborhood and I always behaved myself out of respect for education and my teachers.

    I didn’t always like my teachers or classmates but it would have been outrageous, antisocial behavior to start yelling and punching in class. My parents would have been disgraced and I would have been in serious trouble.

    So sick and tired of hearing this victim mentality in low-income areas. Being poor doesn’t mean you can’t have class. Take ownership of your behavior. Take pride in your character. Stop blaming others. If you feel angry inside about racism, put that anger to good use by using it as a motivational tool to excel in school and get a good job so you can have a positive influence on your community.

  4. Shane

    Gracie, thank you for showing us who the true racist is in this conversation. A classless personal attack based on race: what a wonderful, grown-up way to start a conversation.

  5. David George

    Is it too obvious to say, it’s time for cameras in the classroom? Even if they are not being constantly monitored, they are required to deal with the inevitable charges of brutality, assault, and so forth.

    Small price to pay.

What say you?