Last Monday (one last day of school for students after a week and a half of Regents exams), my school took our students to Van Cortlandt park for a field day. We organized soccer, volleyball, tug of war, badmitten, baseball, hiking, etc... While I'd guess only a little more than half of our student body chose to show up (which is probably not that much less than show up on a regular school day), it was a nice way to end the year.
Until the train ride back.
We dismissed students from the park at the end of the school day. At that point, staff were no longer legally responsible for them, but we did offer to help them manage the subway system so they could make it back to their stop without getting lost. But getting something like 200 students on a train without a plan for organization (like the one we'd created for getting to the park) doesn't often go smoothly.
The 1 train waiting at 242 street filled with rambunctious teenagers pleased to be done with school for the year (despite the fact that the vast majority of them have been asked to attend summer school). Three cars specifically filled with our students.
By the time we got to 225 street, the students on the car I was on were nearly all yelling and beating different parts of the subway car. Knowing I was no longer legally responsible, and knowing that there was little I could do to stop the pandemonium, I stayed seated, covered my ears, and considered changing cars.
However, two other teachers took it upon themselves to attempt to change our students' outrageously inappropriate behavior.
First, they tried asking nicely. Then, teachers tried pointing out how embarrassing the student behavior was. Then teachers tried raising their voices. Then they tried asking nicely again. And then some more voice raising. And then some more comments about embarrassing behavior.
The students' responses weren't exactly what the teachers were hoping for. Students began arguing with teachers, telling them they should lighten up. It was, after all, the last day of school. As the yelling increased, students began mocking staff, some making threatening remarks.
This was exactly what I'd expected would happen. I'd been in this situation before. Some of our students, especially among the most rowdy, are unlikely to change their behavior for an authority figure they have no personal relationship with, especially in an environment outside of school.
I eventually went over (after being asked by one of the teachers trying to help the students see the error in their ways) and tried to reason with a few of my students who were participating, but it wasn't very helpful. There were lots of students and only a handful of teachers. And the most disrespectful students empowered many of the others to act inappropriately. As the trip went on, more and more students were emboldened to disrespect teachers and other passengers as a means of impressing their peers.
The other teachers and I eventually gave up our efforts, realizing, in that moment, we were in a tough situation with no appropriate solutions.
It was a sad way to end the school year. I feel like it also reminded me about some things I've long known about attempting behavior modification with students, I just can't put my finger on exactly what those things are - but I'm pretty sure I wrote about some of them here.