If I had a magic wand, there would be fewer black and brown faces in classrooms reserved for those with behavioral problems and emotional disorders.
I am a substitute teacher in the Wake County public school system. I’ve been at it only six months or so, but the impression will last a lifetime. It has been, in a word, disturbing.
The work is demanding, with its urgency, frayed nerves and hopscotching from one school to another. But what continues to strike me as I navigate the hallways is the insolent behavior of many students of color. They’re nearly always black or brown young men disrespecting themselves and others with little regard for the consequences.
There is an alphabet soup of curriculum courses created for the troublesome. They’re separate from the general classes, and their primary purpose is not to educate but to control and contain. They carry names such as Curriculum Assistance, Cross Curriculum Resources, In School Suspension and Alternative Learning. The students assigned to these classes are almost all black or brown and male.
I remember one occasion when I was cautioned repeatedly to be on alert for my fourth block math class. When class time rolled around, I learned why. The students came into the classroom loud and unhinged, cursing, playing music, with “N-word” this,\ and “N-word” that. It’s an image I will not soon forget.
When I asked another educator about the completion of assignments, the use of cell phones and how to handle class work, he told me it would be enough if I could just keep them in the classroom. Well, he was right. Several students asked for bathroom passes or permission to get a drink of water and never returned.
Sometimes educators leave me notes with a watch list of problem students. I match names to pictures on seating charts, and 10 times out of 10 they are black or brown young men.
In the beginning, I tried to manage their behavior as students walked around, or slept, or wouldn’t stop talking. I was sending them to the office right and left for misconduct. Some even recorded my exchanges with students who refused to comply.
Then I stopped.