Pot And Pee In Your Classroom? What Would You Do?
Here’s a comment from yesterday’s post that every LAUSD high school teacher can relate to:
I’ve been a teacher in LAUSD for 10 years. This year is my first year in a new school. My room is at the end of long hallway on the 5th floor. Most students take the stairs at the front of the hallway. Teachers take the elevator. Just outside my room is the back stairs, which is “no man’s land.” All the walls are tagged up and trash litters the ground. Nearly every day students smoke weed out there during lunch. Many a post lunch period starts with my students filing into my room, smelling the smoke from the back hall, and slyly commentating , “Mister, what have you been doing during lunch? ha, ha, ha” Kind of humiliating. I have emailed the Dean. I have spoken with my vice Principal. I keep bringing the back hallway problems up, and it is barely acknowledged. I get the feeling that I am getting an reputation for being a malcontent. Lately some students have been urinating back there, so that really helps the aroma. I’m not sure what to do.
And here’s my reply:
I feel your pain. I’ve taught in many classrooms that were next to “no man’s land,” and been subjected to the same humiliations of having my classroom smell like pot, or urine, or smoke bombs. The thing is, every inner city school has this place, and with the dramatic cuts to school funding and staff, we are less equipped to tackle the problem. Even the public high school I graduated from in 1987, which wasn’t a ‘bad’ school, had “stoner alley.”
Here are my suggestions:
1. Work on getting a new room for next year. In the meantime, bring some air-freshener.
2. Prop your door open with a chair. Eat your lunch in the chair and keep a blow horn next to you. Every time you hear anyone in the stairwell, blow the horn. Do this every day for two weeks, then at random intervals.
3. Find some students who need to clear detention hours. Have them pick up trash in the stairwell for five minutes every day after lunch.
4. Talk to the principal. Let her know that the smells of marijuana and urine are so strong that they’re interfering with you’re your instructional activities. Ask her what you can do to help.
5. Talk to the dean in person. If you’re new to the school it’s important to develop relationships with the people who can help you. Also, as frustrating as your problem is to you, try to remember that you don’t know what the dean is dealing with. Maybe at the same time he got your email, a homicide detective came into his office to get some information about a student, or maybe he just broke up a fight and had two bloody teenagers sitting in his office, or maybe he just found out that a student who is on probation brought a knife to school and now he has to call the LAPD. Deans in the LAUSD deal with this kind of stuff all the time and most teachers aren’t aware of it. So, when he gets a complaint about garbage/tagging/pot smell in the hallway, (that he probably already knows about) and doesn’t respond right away, it’s not that he doesn’t care, but he has to prioritize.
6. Keep in mind that taggers and pot smokers are two of the most challenging and time consuming non-violent criminals to find on a high school campus. They’re entire MO is being covert. They know the laws, they know what they can get away with, and they use this to their benefit. In order to legally cite a vandal or drug user, there has to be a reliable eye-ball witness who is willing to go to court, and there has to be evidence. Unfortunately, deans, school police, and other safety staff are often so focused on citing and/or preventing violent crimes on campus, that the non-violent offenders don’t get the attention they deserve.
7. Get to know the plant manager and maintenance workers. In my opinion, the plant manager of a school is just as important as the principal. She knows what’s behind every door and she has the keys to all of them.
8. I know you only get paid to work six hours a day, and you’re already working 10 hours and 40 minutes a day, so I don’t think you should work any more hours for free to help solve this problem. But, while principals no longer have the funding to pay teachers for doing extra work, they’re usually willing to get creative with the budget they do have. Ask your principal to buy you a sub for one period (this is actually free for her since the subs already working have a “free” period), get a can of paint and a roller from the plant manager, put on your overalls and get to work!
9. Whistle while you work. If you look like you’re having a great time painting the hallway, you might be able to convince a few other teachers to join in. Just imagine, if one teacher on each floor was willing to sit at his door with a blow horn during lunch and make some noise, y’all could have that place pristine by spring break. (Of course, there will be a break-in over spring break and you’ll have a whole new mess to deal with, but that’s another blog post.)
10. Keep your chin up. The first year at a new school sucks. But I’m pretty sure it always gets better. In the meantime, if you decided to try any of these ideas, take some pictures of your progress – I’d love to post them here.
If you have suggestions for Steve, please leave them in the comment section.