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School Fight!

Bronx Classroom Tales

School Fight! Fights are a reality at my school.

As much as we say, and I believe, that it is a safe place for students to learn and teachers to work, it’s never that surprising about once a month to hear the stampede of teenager feet, making a Beatlemania run to the latest skirmish. What does surprise me is who the featured combatants are.

- “Sheila? Really? She’s so sweet. And quiet. She even says “sugar iced tea” when she gets upset in lieu of cursing.”
- “Well she wasn’t quiet today. Today she shut everyone else up.”

When I started this job three years ago, I tried to teach my students quietly ignoring an adversary was more powerful than engaging with them verbally or physically.

Discouraging Violence with The Art of Invisible Strength

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I taught a section out of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, called “Rules of the Game,” which told the story of girl who learns the “art of invisible strength,” essentially to keep her mouth shut. Every time I saw a potential conflict brewing in the hallways, gym or lunch room, I would shout out across as many heads as my voice could reach, “remember the ART OF INVISIBLE STRENGTH!”

 Undoubtedly corny, this actually managed to calm some students or give them an excuse to back out of a fight because a teacher was watching.

Changing My Opinion of Self-Defense

I don’t know if I believe in the art of invisible strength as I once did. After seeing a series of students return to school days after being jumped for no apparent reason, I’ve decided that fighting back is essential in some cases. I hear many students say that their parents have taught them to never let someone touch them without fighting back and I can respect that.

 It’s why Sheila made some noise the other day. She didn’t start it, but she sure as sugar finished it. At our school that will get you a day suspension, but not three.

Fight Fans

What upsets me most about fights nowadays is their entertainment value for the rest of the student body. During this most recent throw down it took about 8 staff members five minutes just to get spectator students back into classrooms.

The problem is that there is currently no disciplinary consequence for fight fans. For the same reason cursing in the hall gets no more attention than an adult yelling, “LANGUAGE!” and the dress code folds on wearing tennis shoes each year after the first month, the number of violators is just too overwhelming to regulate. Very possibly a corollary of a larger school culture problem, these more minor offenses will most likely continue without abatement in the future.

We’ve been more fortunate than many schools in our peer group. Fights usually don’t get past the first punch before students get separated. To date, no weapons have been used and we don’t have security scanning in our building. However, we should be working on lowering our number of incidents and making fighting something that is looked down upon, not celebrated, instead of counting our hostile blessings.

How do you deal with fighting in your classroom/school? Share in the comments section!