Friday, June 6, 2008

Incidents and Accidents

Today will mark over month that I have not had a single student in my classroom.

We remain "locked down" on the units, with the kids moving only to gym class.

That said, I have hardly seen my students even ON the units today. We're short staffed, detention staff wise, anyway, which means that the whole unit goes on lock down in their cells if one kid is involved in an incident. By law, once a unit is over a certain number of kids, we've got to have at least two staff at all times. (This is not always actually the case, I'm afraid, but it's the standard.) Some staff this morning apparently just didn't show up, and others were sick. I did not see my first group of kids because of this, and my second group was twenty minutes late because of a security issue with one young man in that group. We could hear him banging and yelling, since we've not been allowed back in the classrooms in the Education Wing yet. Two other young men in the group were crying through much of the class. There's no way to proceed with a typical, standard lesson like that. I gave some low-key praise for being in class, and told the boys it would be a laid-back, quiet day. We proceeded with a little grammar game I had planned, and spent the last ten minutes of class either journaling or drafting the personal narratives I plan for us to share next week.

If I see them next week.

Levels of frustration are high, and I'm no exception. I love the other teachers I work with, and happily, we're all always available to each other for venting and support. I've been meaning for a bit now to blog on classroom management and incentive structures; here's my chance, it seems. I've been (I hope respectfully) vocal about my concern that we have been keeping the kids in their units for so long. The kids remain either in the Dayroom (where we have been trying to teach) or of course, in their cells. Some kids here now have not even seen the Education Wing. I've gone on record about my concern about the lack of computers; any writing teacher can tell you how crucial they are to a writing program. And I've spoken up about my concerns that the collective punishment here, I feel, wrecks the incentive structures that one wants in place for an effective, secure classroom. It's so easy for a kid to think, if I'm going to be locked down anyway, why bother making the effort to control my temper or hold my tongue or put forth effort in class. What's the point? It's been clear to me (though I have not seen hard data) that the number of incidents has not gone down since we've been moving all operations to the Units. Perhaps they have not gone up either, I'm not sure. But I'd be very surprised to see data that showed me incidents have gone down as a result of isolating the units. And now, in my view, we've tied one hand behind our back because the kids who are doing well are being treated the same way as the handful of kids who are behind the fights, threats and assaults.

Some of this is staffing; if we're short staffed, it's much tougher to move the kids from classroom to classroom. And I know our program director has been working to hire a few good men; I'm told she's had trouble finding applications who can pass a background check! Much of the trouble before happened as this movement in between classes took place. But really, as I understand it, they were always supposed to have been moved one unit at a time anyway. That's why that procedure was there, unless I'm wrong. Did it need to come to this? Perhaps there is just context I am not aware of, but I know for sure that decisions should be data driven. This policy of keeping all the kids restricted to their units does NOT seem to be working. Of course, that's not my call, but what I can do is make my case that the data should direct what we do.