Sunday, March 08, 2009

Praise and Attack

A week ago Friday I orchestrated a Pizza Celebration for the kids in my community (Health/Science) who earned a grade of C or better in all their first semester classes. My community has been very good about disciplining students; not so good about praising them. After three years of watching this, I thought, "Self, let's give them a little lesson in how to actually motivate kids."

The community agreed as a whole to the party but would not cough up funds to host it. The vice principal on our floor said she would donate $50 and she did. The coordinator, who planned to be away on a cruise the week of the party, gave me a twenty dollar bill as he was leaving town. We asked the other seven teachers in the community to give us two large bottles of soda for the party and all but two did. The rest of the expenses -- the cups, plates, silverware, napkins, Kool-aide, table decorations, invitations, certificates, pizza, and cake were mine to purchase.

So I turned my senior SPED kids loose with a check list, a budget, and a phone. They did a damn fine job. They got the counselors to eventually cough up a list of our kids who met the requirements. Once I showed them how, they entered all the names along with their third block teachers into an Excel spread sheet. They designed, printed, and delivered the 78 invitations. The talked repeatedly with the local Pizza Hut until they met my budget requirements (my cost would be under $200 -- they could go as high as $199.99 but not one cent higher). In fact they brought me in for $168.49 (that included 28 pizzas!). They designed and printed 80 lovely certificates. They delivered invitations, sent out e-mails to remind teachers of the event, and followed a check list of items that had to bc covered before Friday.

On the week of the event they notified all the proper school authorities. The recital hall (small enough to be warmly inviting for such an event) has been previously booked for months. The auditorium -- cavernous -- was offered but we rejected it. We decided to hold the event in the community's lounge -- just a large classroom -- and use the hallway outside for seating. Luckily the lounge is directly opposite my own classroom and at the end of the hall so we could block off the doors leading in and out. Six cafeteria tables were delivered the morning of the party along with 30 folding chairs. Inside the lounge itself we could seat 40 students -- so we have seating for everyone attending.

My students spent the morning setting up and making everything look pretty. Pizza Hut delivered 30 minutes early but that was far better than 30 minutes late. Students began arriving 15 minutes early for the 40 minute celebration -- held just before their own lunch period. The event was very successful. Everyone enjoyed the pizza, talked, and had a good time.

Until . . . the party was winding down. We had only five minutes to go. Most of the students had already gone back to their third block classes in preparation for the lunch bell. My students, a small group of rowdy girls, and two boys I didn't know were still in the lounge. One of the boys tore a girl's dollar bill in half. She cursed him. He threatened to pour red soda on her. I asked for his cup. He "played me off," holding the cup high above his head and claiming he was drinking it. I asked for the cup; he waved it around. I told him to drink it down or give me the cup. He played like he was drinking and waved the plastic cup around. I asked for the cup. He laughed. I took the cup away. He shoved me away, ran back to the back table, poured a full glass of grape soda (with ice for heaven's sake) and threw the entire cup at my white high school tee shirt. Everyone, including me, gasped. He ran. The students gathered and tried to clean me up. I asked who the kid was -- and, of course, he was the kid shot last year, a hard core gang member, with a reputation as long as your (his?) arm.

Security alerted administration. My SPED students quietly and quickly cleaned up the hall and lounge, putting up the tables for the janitors, emptying the trash, returning the Igloo which held the ice to Hospitality. They asked if I need anything else done -- and fled. No one wanted to be involved if there were to be repercussions.

Admin finally found the kid, who beside being a gang banger, is also one of the main basketball players -- and the state tournament was that evening. He was, of course, suspended with a parent conference and not allowed to play in the evening's game. By the time I met with the kid, and the administration, I was over being "so mad I thought my brain would shoot out of the top of my head" and my blood pressure was significantly lowered. Then I found out this kid is a brother of one of the kids I teach -- and I had met the father on several occasions. The boy's story is one of misery and hard knocks, of course, but that does not negate the fact he could not control his temper.

On Wednesday of this week I met again with the kid and his father -- all properly nice and respectful. Dad had done his job -- though unfortunately Dad is NOT the primary guardian. I got a very earnest apology. We shook hands.

Still, a event lovingly planned and joyfully executed ended on a very sour note for my kids and me. That was the sad part. On Wednesday afternoon, the community students who had attended made us a huge booklet, signing the pages with notes of thanks for the wonderful pizza party. The administration asked us to do the event again at the end of the year. We shall see.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Sadly, this is exactly why most of us don't do events like this. Kids get out of control, many refuse to help, and it ends up being more trouble than it's worth. In the olden days, I used to take field trips and do movie nights that I would NEVER try now. Too much risk, paperwork and hassle. Sad. Kudos to you for all your effort!!