Classroom Catastrophe

Part I

Open eyes and hanging heads. Black Sharpie stands out. Three missing students. Silence. my classroom.

“WHAT IS THAT!!!!” I would LOVE to have yelled. I would have yelled it so loud my voice would have stunned like the thud of an anvil falling from 100 feet. “WHAT IS THAT!!!!”

Can you hear it?

So loud that my words would reverberate so harshly in their heads they’d be too dizzy to even sit up right. “WHAT IS THAT!!!!”

Can you hear it now?

They’d feel so ashamed, they’d beg for forgiveness.

“Oh please, Mr Boutin. We were so wrong. Students should never act like this. We’re so sorry!!!”

I’d turn my head to let them know I’m too angry to forgive in this moment.

“We’ll buy you a new projection screen. We should never have defaced it with marker like that. How could we ever expect you to trust us. We’ll do all our homework and never complain ever again. We’re so sorry.”

After profuse apologies, they’d sit silently begging for excellent instruction. “Please, we’ll do anything to make up for the colossal catastrophe we collectively caused,” their faces would say, and their pencils, poised over their papers, would agree.


I ask calmly why someone has drawn on my projection screen. A student calmly combs his hair and makes a joke about it. Others snicker. Most are bored waiting for the next activity. THIS is my classroom.

Part II

Man, you shoulda seen what happened in Mr Boutin’s class yesterday.

What happened?

So Mr. Boutin is talkin’ bout population or some shit and he puts on this video and walks outta class.

He just left class?

Yea – well he kicked out some people and was takin’ em to the office I guess. Iono. Anywayz. This movie is playin’ for like five minutes, and it’s like hella boring. All it is is all these white dots on a map and this annoying sound.

Why were you watching it? Was it supposed to be teaching you something?

Awww….yup. I guess.  Anywayz, Mr. B comes back in the room and there’s black marks on the screen at the front. And at first, he like doesn’t say anything. The lights were out, so maybe he couldn’t see it. But then he turns the lights on and is like, “Why is there marker on my screen?”

Somebody drew on the projection screen while he was out of the room?

yuuuUUPPP. The people in there is always clownin’. That class is SOOOO boring. Nobody takes it seriously. It’s all bad.

What did Mr. Boutin do?

Oh, ya know, he’s just like, “You guys are so bad and you act like you’re in pre-school and I feel disrespected,” and all that or whatever. We’re all just sittin’ there like, Really? I mean, Really?

What happened next?

He went in the hall and started talkin’ to security or something, and then he came back in and started teaching again. He never does nothin’ bout that stuff.

That’s messed up.

Yea…but it was kinda funny though.


  1. James.....I am so sorry. I hope things improve soon.

    That seems so inane. But I really mean it.

  2. That's the sort of thing that the corporate "reformers" don't "get." It's all test scores and numbers to them. The fact that children are humans with all the social and economic problems that go with that is just ignored.

    I was reading some comments on another blog yesterday and came across a few which were bashing teachers for our 3 months vacation, short work day, and huge salaries. One person, especially caught my eye..."It's just not that hard to teach." Obviously that person has never set foot in a classroom other than as a student.

    Finally, re: the specific incident you have written about. There are good days and bad days...good years and bad years. We all have them...we all understand. The mark of a successful teaching career is how you bounce back from the bad times. It takes courage to get up every day and face a classroom of students, many (or most) of whom don't really care about learning. It takes strength to keep going day after day on the hope that some growth -- personal and academic -- will occur in your classroom.

    "Strength and courage aren't always measured in medals and victories. They are measured in the struggles we overcome. The strongest people are not always the people who win, but the people who don't give up when they lose."

  3. James,

    I am going to take a wild guess and say that the group of students you're writing about are either freshmen or sophomores (I hope). There's something about that age. Patterns and habits have been established by this age, but for many those patterns and habits are negative.

    I have a group that sounds a lot like yours. They haven't taken it to the level that your students just did, but I have had to clean some graffiti off desks and walls lately. And that's with me up and continuously walking around an monitoring them. There's 33 of them and one of us. Something's bound to slip past us.

    Often we have to deal with a select group of student's "fire drills" and meltdowns before we can even attempt to manage or teach the rest of the class.

    Remember that the students are sprinting every day, and you are running a marathon for the long haul. There's always tomorrow.

  4. What a bunch of assholes. I'm not sure what the solution is when things get that negative. I've had it happen when I taught middle school and 9th grade, and the only thing that healed it was time. I can look back on it now and say it made me stronger to go through it, but I know at the time it feels really bad. You'll make it through buddy!

  5. Digital knuckle bump to you, James. You are a brilliant educational ethnographer with excellent blogging skills and therefore you absolutely belong in this classroom. Our students in urban settings need rigorous, thoughtful, skilled professionals like you. And these teens crave the example of leadership and adulthood that you imbue on a daily basis. I also believe that you teach your students so much more by who you are (and how you navigate these tumultuous situations) than what you intend to teach through the formal curriculum. It's a huge challenge to keep your momentum and passion for this work; but I hope you have mechanisms for renewing your commitment to urban education. We are only failures if we give up on our students. Please don't give up.

  6. Sounds to me like you were being tested. It happens. The best thing you can do is move on and try not to hold a grudge. I kicked a kid out of my SAT prep program a few weeks ago because he was being disrespectful to me and a total distraction to everyone else and when he was "helping" decorate for homecoming (i.e., flirting with the cheerleaders and eating the food the sponsors provided, not actually doing anything productive) he wrote F.U. on my classroom door. Oh well. For every kid that acts like a total idiot there are at least 2 that really respect and appreciate what you're doing. You can't win 'em all.

    C'est la vie.


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