Monday, March 21, 2005

A Story

Every now and then a student does something that crosses the line from everyday adolescent weirdness to real sexual harrassment. The student who wiped lotion on my leg and made sexual gestures is one example, and he had done the same thing to some of the girls sitting nearby before he did it to me. It didn't affect me much emotionally because I didn't see the sexual stuff, that was reported to me by students. Nevertheless, he's getting a three-day suspension. He would get counseling but his family doesn't allow him to get counseling from a school counselor, opting instead for counseling by his church pastor (who happens to be his grandmother). He's a pretty messed-up kid from a pretty-messed up home; we've reported them to ACS more than once and have tried to help him ourselves in many, many ways, and at this point, I think we've moved on to helping other kids because we've used up the available options or hit the wall that is his family.

The whole thing reminded me of a situation that occurred during my first year of teaching. I taught five classes, none of them a piece of cake but one - 339 - particularly difficult. The eighth graders in that class could barely read, had a host of behavior problems, had in most cases been held over at least once, etc., etc. They could be a major pain in the *ss but they also had their sweet side, and my strategy for dealing with them was to ignore as much as possible the kids who were incorrigible and teach to those who responded. I wish I could say that I did not give up on any of them but I did what I had to to make life livable. In any case, I really bonded with a few of those kids, and I think they learned a few things, though not as much as they should have. But I digress.

One boy in this class - "Keshon" - had an IEP for severe emotional & behavioral problems. Thanks to the IEP, a harmless old man named Mr. B. had been placed as his para. I was never quite sure what Mr. B's role was supposed to be - and I certainly never saw Keshon's IEP or was involved in any conversation about how to handle (or educate!) him. Once, he was placed in the "top class" for a few weeks to try to isolate him and give (some of) his teachers a break. As I taught this class one day, the boy started throwing paper at his para. I ignored him. After all, he had a grown man assigned to sit next to him full time; this didn't seem like my problem as long as I could still teach the other kids. A few minutes passed, and then Mr. B. got my attention - in the middle of my lesson! - and said, "Excuse me, Miss, Keshon is throwing paper."

But anyway.

This boy had a reputation in the school, and part of that reputation was that he was untouchable because of a relative at the district office. So he occasionally got suspended for particularly egregious acts, but the principal could never succeed in placing him in a real special ed class or transfering him to a special school.

His behavior in my class was by far the worst example of sexual harrassment that I have ever endured. I have experienced only the most minor forms of workplace sexual harrassment (another story for another day), and nothing that any other child has done has come close to the months and months that I spent with this boy - who was probably 15 - in my classroom. It was well past the point where if he were an adult I would have sued him.

Day in, day out, whenever I walked past his desk he would slouch, spread his legs, and mutter, "F--- you. F--- you. No one wants to f--- you. F--- you" and on and on and on.

I had to send him out of class at least once for exposing himself to girls in the class.

Once I realized that I could write up anecdotals about the harrassment until I was blue in the face without result, I did my best to ignore him unless he disrupted class for the other children.

Here's how another teacher told me she dealt with Keshon. She was complaining about him to the dean of the eighth grade. She didn't even teach him, but he harrassed her in the halls. The dean said, "Well, you just have to punk him out." She was a fairly new teacher, from the suburbs, and she had no idea what the dean meant... punk him out? So she endured - like I did. And then one day, she snapped. He muttered something lewd to her as he passed her in the hall, and she turned, grabbed him by the shirt, pushed him against the wall, and said to him, "If you ever touch me, talk to me, say anything to me, say anything about me, or look at me wrong again, I am going to call the police and have them arrest you right here in school." And then she let him go. I don't know if I recommend her strategy or not - I'll leave that up to you to decide, but I will say this: Keshon never bothered her again.

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