Sometimes I wonder why I ever step into the hallway.
During homeroom everyday, we stand for the National Anthem before hearing the announcements for the day. We don't have a moment of silence, but everyone everywhere in the building is supposed to stop and stand at attention until, at least, "the home of the brave." I usually hang near my desk so that I can check email or do attendance, but recently I found myself near the door. In the hall, a few guys were walking and talking very loudly.
I popped my head out my door. "Hey guys, stop for a minute, OK?" They kept walking. "Hey, I said, stop!"
One of them turned in my direction, said, "Man, why don't you go fuck yourself?" and kept walking.
As I saw it, I had two choices: 1. Go after him, show him who's boss, or 2. Go fuck myself. Neither sounded pleasant, so I hurried behind him and said, "You need to stop." He didn't. "OK, then, you need to give me your ID." He ignored me. So I grabbed his book bag. "So, you want to do this the hard way? Now, give me your ID."
He said something like "get your fucking hands off my shit," and when I didn't, he made a move like he was going to slip out of his book bag, leave me standing there holding nothing but that, and keep walking. So I made another grab, this time for his ID, which hung around his neck on a chain.
"Get the fuck away from me," he said.
"Fine, then give me your ID, and we can deal with this in the discipline office."
That was, of course, ridiculous. He couldn't give me his ID because I was already holding it. But I couldn't let go of it because I knew he'd bolt. One of us needed to act. He made the first move.
He actually pushed me, actually tried to give me a shove into some lockers. When that didn't work, he actually grabbed my sweater with both hands, up near my shoulders, then started trying to push me again. Now I had several options, and they quickly flashed through my mind.
1. Knock this scumbag to the ground.
2. Wait for security to arrive.
3. Go fuck myself.
I chose number 2. I stood there, trying to remain calm as I said, "Dude, you really don't want to touch me. Big mistake. You will get arrested for assault."
In a few seconds it was over. A little crowd of students had gathered round. The crowds love watching fights, and this could easily have escalated into one. A couple of security guards ran over, got the kid away from me, got his ID, and we walked down to the office together.
"Man, I thought you were going to drop him," one of the security guards said to me. "You had every right. I would've."
"Well, I might have," I said and forced out a laugh. "But I didn't want to spill my coffee."
And it was true. As we walked, I realized that during the whole encounter, as I held his bag, then his ID in one hand, and as he was pushing me, I held onto a white styrofoam cup of coffee in my other hand. How ridiculous.
In the discipline office, I gave my side of the story and listened to the kid's version. I guess like every criminal, he believed he was innocent. If you believed him, he was minding his own business when this bully came up to him, grabbed his ID, tried to choke him, and the whole time he just wanted to peacefully do the right thing.
The two uniformed Chicago cops that have an office in the building came into the room. "Want to press charges?" one of them asked. "We can arrest him right now."
I looked at the kid. "If I heard an apology, I might think about not having him arrested," I said.
"You need to apologize to me!" he snarled.
One of the cops asked me and the assistant principal to go into a separate room. "The kid is wearing an ankle bracelet," he said. "He was just released from jail yesterday."
"Crap," I said. "Then I'd just be sending him right back. And for what?"
"Why don't you let the kid cool off, come back next period?" the AP suggested.
I left, wondering: If I don't have him arrested, he'll think it's OK to act however he wants. On the other hand, what would jail solve? Would I be taking away this kid's possible chance for an education, his chance for survival? Was it really worth it? Did I want that on my conscience? And anyway, if he'd truly an idiot, he'll find his way back to jail with or without my help.
And I started thinking about statistics. Just a couple of weeks ago, I read a Sun-Times editorial saying that African-American students are much more likely to be disciplined than other students. Would I just be adding to those stats? On the other hand, he was walking with a Latino boy before the altercation. I told both of them to stop. One of them turned and had to say something. So was I singling him out?
I came back to the office 30 minutes later. "I think he's ready to talk," the AP said.
"Tell me you're sorry, that it'll never happen again, and I won't have you arrested," I said.
He mumbled his apology.
"Look me in the eye," I said.
He didn't want to. Did I see the possibility of a tear in there? Or was he a good actor?
"Fine, I'm satisfied," I finally said. "Not because I necessarily believe you, but I want you to believe something: Not every adult is out to get you. I don't know you, but you don't know me either. Ask any of my students, and you'll see I'm a teacher that wants to help every single one of my students. I am not out to get or to hurt anyone. If you're in this building because you want to learn, then I won't mess with that. But if a teacher ever tells you to stop, next time you better stop."
Lesson learned? For him, probably nothing. For me, one: Never, never try to be a tough guy with a cup of coffee in one hand.