Mississippi Teacher Corps

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thoughts about my physical surroundings and vandalism

Last weekend, I took one of my friends who had never seen my school on a walking tour around the grounds, and showing the area to him made me reflect on how I perceive my physical school building. Just across the street from my school is the district's high school. The high school building is typical of a Delta school: yellowish brick, one story high, old. It is ugly, and could stand a renovation, but is functional. Go around to the back of my school building and you will see streets lined with shotgun houses, some of them dilapidated. If you leave though the side entrance, you will see a small driveway, and just beyond it, an empty, littered field, covered in dead grass, that still bears the sign for the factory that used to operate there. On the other side of the school, you will find the track and the football field that we share with the high school. The facility could use a renovation. Venture a half mile from the school grounds, and depending which way you go, you will either end up in one of the worst neighborhoods in town, by the factories and manufacturing plants, or on the stretch of highway that passes the local adult store. By no means is it an attractive landscape. Yet, my school itself is beautiful. Of all the schools in the district, including the elementary school located on the white side of town, my school has been renovated most recently. It is a modern brick building with columns by the entrance, a main hallway with many large windows, and a circular section with skylites that houses the library. Just outside the cafeteria is an outdoor patio with a few tables and chairs. Incidentally, as far as I can tell, the only time the patio gets any use is when students are waiting for their buses; I never see anyone eating lunch out there, and when I asked my assistant principal if I could take my lunch period class to the patio tables, he denied permission. It is a mere fluke that my school building is the most attractive in the district, but I like the idea that my school stands as a beautiful facility in a bleak landscape.

The part that kills me is that every day, I come in to school to witness students tearing up their beautiful new school. I teach in a classroom where the lab tables are positioned in such a way that the desks must be sloppily crammed around them. There is no neat way to position students in rows, and it is very difficult for me to have any sort of enforcable seating chart (I tried for several months to make students sit in assigned seats and eventually concluded that it was a losing battle that was not worth my energy). I also cannot move around the room or see what is happening in my room very well. When I moved into my classroom at the beginning of the year, I found the computers at each lab table in horrible states of vandalism. Additionally, gum, candy wrappers, crumbs, and empty bags of chips had been stuffed into the recesses in each desk where the computers are placed. It is virtually impossible to clean out these recesses, unless I wanted to spend several hours going around with a suction vacuum cleaner. Once the school year started, I witnessed this destruction continue under my own nose. Keys have been ripped off computers, wires have been torn apart, jacks have been pulled out of the tables, and all sorts of distugsting garbage from junk food has been stashed in the recesses. I no longer have a single functioning computer in my room. No matter how attentively I watch my students, or how much I walk around the room when I am speaking, there is absolutely no way that I can see what is happening behind the lab stations, and my classes are large enough that I must seat at least some students at the lab stations. Students litter the floor with paper, and have somehow managed to rip apart the plastic seats of almost every chair in the room. I have found all sorts of nasty and vulgar things written about me in textbooks, on desks, and elsewhere in the classroom. Someone has even thought to write insults on the piece of glass that covers my name sign next to the entrance to my classroom.

For some time, I thought that such vandalism occured in my room because of my inability to manage my class more effectively, or because of the poor design of the room itself, or some combination of the two. I no longer believe this, because I have seen signs of it elsewhere in the school. Students have pulled the balls out of the mice (mouses?) in the library computer lab. Sometimes, when I take my classes for their bathroom breaks, the boys walk out of the bathroom grimacing and tell me that they can't use it because someone has peed on the walls or floor and they are just too grossed out. The smell reaches me as I stand out in the hall, and I don't know what to tell my students who need to use the bathroom other than that I'm sorry that their peers have no respect for the facility. Recently, another teacher on my hall told me that she has neat rows of desks where she can easily observe the students, and will make them erase anything that she catches them writing on the desks, but still stays after school every day to wipe the grafitti off the desks. Students come from the dilapidated surroundings of the school and enter the beautiful school building only to tear it apart.

I spoke to two of my friends who teach at the high school in the town where I live, and they both said that their school does not have vandalism problems. We concluded that it must be a middle school phenomenon.

It goes without saying that I care about my students and want them to have the best resources available. Yet, I often become enraged with the gross lack of appreciation they show for the nice things that my school has. Their abuse of property has disgusted me to the point where when it came time to spend my EEF money, I chose to spend it on a printer for my own use (since the school provided most classrooms with a printer, but for unknown reasons, did not equip my room with one) rather than manipulatives or lab supplies for the class. I know that some of my students would respect and greatly appreciate updated lab equipment or other supplies, and it makes me sad that they do not have these things, but I cannot stand the idea of buying supplies for class use with the knowledge that these supplies will be thrown around, banged around, torn apart, and stashed into hiding places. I wish that I could somehow teach my students to appreciate what the school physically offers, but this seems like a value that I cannot instill in the 50 minutes I see them per day. So, besides hoping that my students start acting mature enough sometime soon to respect property, I have no solution for what to do about the destruction my school endures each day.

Now playing: Mr. Big- Be with You


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