* Survival Tip #10: Don’t judge a book by its cover

surfer-532132__180Many, many years ago, I taught at a public school whose entire population consisted of students with emotional disorders.  My class was a group of psychotic adolescents.  It was a tough adjustment for me since I typically work with elementary-aged students who have a hope for their future.  These were kids for whom the future seemed dismal.  Most of them lived in group homes, having long been abandoned by parents who could not manage them.  I inherited a few routines I could have lived without.  One of them was a weekly “walking field trip” to the local library, which was about half a mile away.  I never enjoyed these visits.  Let me rephrase that.  I hated these trips.  For one thing, the kids were so unpredictable, one with uncontrolled seizures, that I always felt uneasy about corralling them safely to and from school.  Second, the school was in a neighborhood of retirees, so the library was full of elderly folks (about my current age, come to think of it!) who disliked our presence, to put it mildly.  They thought library patrons were to be completely silent and generally invisible.  I had high standards for my class, but with a special ed twist: my kids were to walk (not spin in wild circles), handle materials appropriately (no stealing or eating books), and treat others with respect (no biting, pinching, kicking, or kissing).  Some of my students continually talked to “beings” that no one else could see.  Other kids had syndromes or conditions which induced a wide variety of random shrieks and unusual sounds.  And these “kids” were in their late teens, so they close to being adults.  When we opened the library doors, you could hear the sounds of disapproval from the library habitués.  Even the librarians were wary of us, looking considerably happier when we walked out the door.  However, we did establish a kind of routine on our visits.  Each student had their preferred sections, music, and magazines.  Everyone was allowed to check out materials if they followed the basic rules; otherwise, it was three strikes and you’re out (no check-outs until the next week).

Everything changed when a new student named Derek joined our class.  I didn’t even realize he was a student when I first saw him.  Derek was almost 18 and stood much taller than me.  Derek looked like an exile from a southern California beach.  He was bronzed, well-built, had a charming smile, and looked like a stereotypical surfer dude.  He talked about sports (no, he did not surf) and acted perpetually shocked that he was in our class.  Basically, Derek was embarrassed to be seen with the other kids.  I had reviewed his records, which described him as quite violent, but he certainly did not appear that way in our class.  He isolated himself from the other students but was polite to “adults.”

Derek walked behind us on his first trip to the library, not wanting to be seen with the “weirdos,” as he called them.  I had reviewed the rules before we left and he was excited about finding some records.  Yes, this was the vinyl era.  When we entered the library, all the kids scattered to their favorite spots.  Derek took a moment to scan the surroundings, including the disgruntled elderly.  WIthin moments, Derek was screaming and shaking a fist at an older man.  I intervened, counted that as his first warning, and redirected Derek.  I stayed near him but he seemed to have settled down.  My assistant and I moved around to check on the others.  Then I heard another uproar from the music section.  Derek was fighting with a classmate over a set of headphones.  That was warning number two.  The third warning came after he clubbed a student who happened to be standing nearby.  Finally, it was time to leave (yea!) and my gang lined up to check out their materials.  Derek also got in line, clutching three albums defiantly.  I shook my head and he looked away.  I walked up close to him and softly reminded him that he could not check out anything on this visit.  I was enthusiastically confident he would do better next week.

Derek went ballistic.  The records went flying as he went for my throat.  My assistant and I struggled to contain him, a cursing, writhing, incredibly strong young man.  Gasping, and losing the battle, I asked a librarian to call the school.  Within moments, three other teachers arrived.  It took all five of us to get him out of the building.  Then he fastened himself onto the roof of the small car, which would have been funny if I had not been hyperventilating.  Eventually he was driven off, barely contained, while I staggered back to school with the rest of the group.  Everyone was shaken and fearful after Derek’s assault.  All I could think of was whether we would return to the library.

What do you think?  Did we go back to the library?  I guess that would be another survival tip:  Don’t take the surfer dude back to the library.  Well, he did end up returning to the library after a brief hiatus.  He acted like a wild man again, was transported back to school by car, and that was his last field trip to the library.  Not mine, unfortunately.

2 thoughts on “* Survival Tip #10: Don’t judge a book by its cover

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