I taught high school in California from August 2009 through May of 2019. In Silicon Valley, I did not see any school safety officer on-site, but the Principal was a very large man who indicated once that he never saw any discipline problems when he was a classroom teacher. The worst incident at this school that I witnessed was the tearing down of a cafeteria door by a small group of students when an award assembly ran long, and into the lunch period. The school provided breakfast to students, and those who arrived late brought their plates into the classroom, putting first-period teachers in the position of making students go hungry if the no food in classroom rule was enforced.
In Sacramento, I witnessed bullying by a group of girls in a “mobbing” attack. Afterward, the victim needed an escort to and from class, and there was an unarmed safety officer who provided the escort service when I called for him via the phone in my classroom. The aunt of one of the “mobbers” accosted and threatened me in the parking lot after school for reporting her niece for bullying. This incident was caught on a security camera in the parking lot, and I was told that this person would lose her privilege of being welcome at the school and at school events.
Here, fights occurring during the lunch period drew hoards of excited students who flocked to the scene of the fight, surrounding those who were fighting to cheer them on to greater violence.
A young man unknown to the school community entered the school unimpeded, to yell at a teacher he was unhappy with. I reported the incident to the Administration and asked them to look out for this person in the future, and not allow him inside the school. At this school, I underwent safety training in which I was taught de-escalation tactics.
I reported a young man who appeared to be undergoing a psychotic break in my classroom to the Principal. This student, whose behavior, previously, was exemplary, ran out of the room one day and pounded his fists into the wall to avoid punching the girl next to him whose behavior he found to be frustrating. He told me that this was why he ran out. He was diagnosed with bipolar 1, but the school Counselor berated me for betraying his privacy to the Principal.
At this school, there were no consequences when a 6th-grade girl stole my wallet out of my briefcase, stuffed several 20’s into her bra, and then took the bills to the bathroom to meet another student who she had called and asked to meet up at the bathroom to take possession of the loot. She was smart enough to give some smaller bills to the students who sat near her to implicate others in her crime.
A sixth-grade boy threw a shard of pencil and hit me in the eye because I was reading Old Yeller to the class. He, also, faced no consequences even though other students wanted to identify him to the Principal. I was warned that if I wanted to keep my job, I needed to “forget” these incidents. A member of the office staff shared a story with me about what happened to a Substitute teacher whose purse was also stolen. Her car keys were used to drive her car to her house and trash it.
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At my next school, a small charter school in a small town, I witnessed no safety issues. I was fired, however, for sharing an article I’d written with my students who were Juniors and Seniors studying American Literature. The article ran that same day in the local newspaper. It summarized my experience and feelings when I had dozens of bullets fly over my head fired by an illegal alien and two Deputies that were engaging him in a shootout. This man had murdered a Deputy in Sacramento that same morning. The barrage of bullets that missed me was the result of a shootout occurring on the street just uphill from my location on the walking trail below. One of these bullets killed another Deputy. I met up with the wounded suspect holding an automatic weapon after this killing and shootout as he fled the scene. I later testified at his trial. He had the opportunity to flee because the other Deputy turned his attention to aiding the dying Deputy.
In a suburb of Sacramento, I taught for four years at a high school that had an on-site, armed Police Officer. He had an office near the Principal’s office which was near the main entrance of the school. This Officer rode around in a golf cart before school, at recess, at lunch, and after school. He spoke with staff and students regularly. The school had tall, cyclone fencing all around, with two locking gates. The gates were unlocked about 20 minutes before school started to allow the passage of hundreds of students and teachers. There was a Police presence at Football games. I saw no fights or other violence at this school. I did report a student who wrote about carrying a knife at all times to ensure his personal safety. The Administration called the student to the office immediately and took the knife away. He was suspended for two days, then placed back in my room. Because he was seething with anger and unable to focus on class assignments, I asked that he be removed from my class permanently, and he was.
The final incident I’ll describe was the most traumatic. It occurred when I was a Substitute teacher before I became a full-time classroom teacher. I was subbing at a Continuation high school. A girl had a laser pointer, and when I was correcting papers, she managed to get a direct hit in my eye. The blinding flash of white sent me reeling, and my scream brought help into the room, and I was sent home for the day. Several laser pointers were confiscated from students, but, again, there were no consequences. This Continuation high school did have a Deputy present.
By Jennifer Mitchell Towner
Jennifer Mitchell Towner worked in the computer industry from 1979 to 1998. Under a program called Encorps, she became a high school math, French, and Consumer Finance teacher in 2009, retiring in 2019. She holds two BAs from U.C. Berkeley in Math and French and an MBA from Stanford University. The books she published in 2021, Good Boots and Kipper the Nipper are on Amazon.
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