Power to the Students!

I stopped posting on this blog a couple of years ago, but am beginning again, not with the same emphasis but a more immediately important one —

Yesterday and today the media has been flooded with the video from Spring Valley High in South Carolina of the girl being manhandled by the resource officer who was called to remove her from class. The emphasis is all on the poor student and how traumatizing the incident was. No-one speaks of what led up to it.

Why was the resource officer called? Because the girl refused to go to the office when the teacher requested it. Why was she being sent to the office? Because she was disrupting the class and making it hard for the teacher to do her job.

Evidence: she had her cell phone out and was on the computer.

Maybe the computer was for classwork but in my experience students who don’t want to learn use every opportunity to get on the internet either by phone or computer to play games or check text messages.

If the girl had been paying attention and doing her work, she wouldn’t have been asked to leave.

Yes, the resource officer used too much force. It was wrong.

Five years ago I became a substitute teacher at the local high school. It’s small, diverse, and only has 500 students. Here’s what I wrote: “I subbed for English. What fun! Nice, polite students and nice staff. “

My opinion of the students has remained high. However, at the ages of 13-16, even a normally respectful student can blow up without warning.

As a substitute, I work especially hard at patience, knowing the classes will try to take advantage of me. I allow it up to a point.

In biology class I was conducting an experiment using test tubes and pieces of smelly liver. The class of thirty freshmen gathered around, fidgeting and squirrely, trying to give the impression of not paying attention but intrigued nonetheless.

Then two girls in front began the clapping game.   Noisily giggling and laughing as they capered through the intricate patterns, they were having a fine time.

“Please stop,” I requested loudly but they didn’t hear.

I tried again, louder. The class began to murmur and snicker.

Desperate, I stuck my hand between theirs, trying to time it so they wouldn’t hit me. Slam! Ouch! Our hands connected and my fingernail scratched Abbie’s hand. She was incensed!

“You hurt me!”

When I didn’t respond as she wanted, her “hurt” escalated into “You hit me!”

I just shook my head in disbelief as she continued to squeal. Her friend was remarkably quiet, getting out her pencil to be ready for the experiment.

When the class wasn’t backing Abbie up, she yelled, “You can’t hit me! I’m going to the office!”

I watched her slam out the door and started again on the experiment, this time with everyone’s attention. It was going well for about eight minutes.

The door opened and in marched a woman who I later found out was the new vice principal, along with one of the other substitute teachers.

“Would you come with me, Mrs. Paulsen,” she said. It wasn’t a request. “Bring your things.”

That became a two-day suspension for me, two days in which my crime was investigated. No misdeed was discovered and I was reinstated. For days afterwards, whenever I was subbing one of more students would say, “Hey, Mrs. Paulsen, I hear you hit a kid!”

What if a student had taken a video and shown it to the media?   Even though I was in the right, my reputation would be ruined, my job finished, and I would be hounded by well-meaning people who considered me to be a horror in a classroom.

The media have made a killing on the South incident. What isn’t being addressed is that the girl was disrupting the class enough to make the teacher send her to the office. And the girl refused to go.

What have students learned from this? That they have power over teachers. Remember Frankie? “I don’t have to listen to you!”

In chemistry, a boy turned on the faucet at the lab station. The water began flooding over the counter.

“Move!” I ordered Bradley as I grabbed some nearby paper towels.

He didn’t budge so I put my hand on his shoulder and put pressure there to move him out of my way. As I mopped up the puddle, Brad started in:

“You’re not allowed to touch me! You shoved me! I am going to get you fired!”

“Go to the vice principal,” I suggested, and off he went, ranting away.

As the students got back to work, I packed up my things, expecting at any minute to see the new vice principal come through the door. To my surprise, he never came. When I found him after school, he just smiled and said that with questioning, Brad had finally admitted he had been in the wrong.

It was a narrow escape for me. Two incidents in four years.

A cell phone video doesn’t show what leads up to an “incident.”

All power to the student.

“I don’t have to!”

“I’ll get you fired!”

“You can’t do that!”

Yes, I have enjoyed, really enjoyed, four years of substitute teaching here. But I know how ruinous it would be if I had to go through what the teacher in South Carolina will face. I don’t think I will take the chance.

All it takes is one video.


Author: Victoria Paulsen

I'm writing the second of two YA novels about the Roman empire just before Septimius Severus became emperor, and just after. My background is in theater. At UCLA and Univ. of Colorado, I studied Greek and Roman drama as well as Latin. That was awhile ago. My new research is even more fascinating, thanks to the Internet. I want to share the fun stuff!

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