I got busted by the police for excessive force!
Yes, a cop… busted me!!! for excessive force. And when law enforcement complains of a teacher using excessive force, you’d think, ‘Wow that teacher must be out of control.’ Or would you?
Officer Bradshaw was talking with the Principal out on the P.E. field when they heard shouting coming from outside a classroom. They turned to see a white male teacher shouting at a black female student. (Start the body camera now) Bradshaw turned on his ‘body cam’, he couldn’t make out what was being said but it was obvious that the teacher and the girl were yelling at each other. Then they stopped yelling and stomped back into the classroom (stop the camera).
Outraged (and probably feeling like he had the moral high ground), Bradshaw turned to the Principal and demanded, “Is THAT how your teachers talk to your students?” The Principal said, “I don’t know what that was about, but I will find out.”
So, of course, I heard about it that afternoon. Before I could say a word in my defense, I was hearing phrases like, “I expect better things from you… Have you any idea how embarrassing that was… What were you thinking?” and more. To which I protested, “You guys weren’t there. I had to shout at that girl just to get a word in edgewise. I was only following school policy but she refused listen.” “So you had to shout?” “Yes!” And before the week was out, I was vindicated by the Principal’s own actions.
Allow me to digress. Much of what Officer Bradshaw and the Principal saw concerns restroom policies, so a few words of clarification are needed. Trips to the restroom occur for two different reasons: one reason for a trip to the restroom is to attend to very necessary bodily functions; the other reason for going to the restroom is mischief. The need for privacy for bodily functions provides the opportunity for mischief [See also: Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room by Brownsville Station 1973; or Meeting in the Ladies’ Room by Klymaxx 1984; or even that innocent American TV classic Leave it to Beaver 1957~1963 which had an episode in which the restroom was used to cheat on a test!]. If you have never seen any mischief or evidence of mischief in a restroom you’ve led a very sheltered life.
Now put yourself in the teacher’s position. School policy on restroom use varies over the years based on student behavior and responsibility. Our protocols would vary from just letting them go when they request it, to not letting them go without a door to door security escort (those with a medical excuse were given whatever latitude their doctors requested). Door to door security may seem like a rather extreme step but we are responsible for every child’s safety and unfortunately, even at good schools, kids push the limits. Aside from the obvious stuff like graffiti, tobacco and litter there have been times when the restrooms smelled like a Rastafarian’s reggae love fest, or when we have found tequila bottles hidden in the ceiling tiles, or when (I’m sorry to say) the restrooms have been used for assaults both sexual and violent, and cell phones get used in restrooms for everything from cheating on tests to bullying to alerting gang members or organizing fights. One time, while smoking cigarettes, the kids accidentally set fire to the restrooms. So with the potential for drug abuse, drug overdose and/or violent crime being possible if not predictable, maybe you can see why a teacher might be careful about when he or she lets a student out of the room to use the bathroom.
On the Day in Question:
Nadine wanted to use the restroom. I wrote out a pass and let her go. She returned in about 10 minutes. About 5 minutes later she asked to go to the restroom again. I told her I’d have to call the office since she’d already gone once that period. That’s not what Nadine wanted. Nadine was one of those people whose negotiating technique consists of being loudly, venomously disagreeable until they get their way. Along with being disagreeable, Nadine was also one of those people who always has to have the last word – a very volatile combination. And I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“Nadine, if you want to use the restroom I’ll have to call the office to get an okay.”
“Don’t call the office. Why do you want to call the office? I just need to use the bathroom!”
“Yes but you’ve already gone once this hour. The current rule is that I’m supposed to call the office if a student needs to use the restroom frequently.”
“You don’t need to call the office. I just need to use the bathroom! I’m a girl and you should let me go.” At this point, Nadine was getting strident and it was hard to keep my voice down, so I suggested we step outside to discuss it. I didn’t like arguing outside because it was by the basketball courts and brick walls so voices tended to carry and sound louder, but at least we weren’t arguing in front of the class.
I said, “Look, I’m not preventing you from using the restroom. It’s just that you’ll have to use the one in the office which is just as close.” By this point I was really starting to suspect there was something going on in the girls’ restroom. Kids who really have to go don’t argue – they go to the office. Young ladies who are having ‘female issues’ don’t argue. Most of the time they ask to go to the office (the ladies in the office keep feminine supplies on hand). Sometimes girls are shy and ask, “Can I go to the office? Its a female thing.” Others are more bold and will say, “Hey I’m having my period and need to go to the office.” In either event, shy or candid, I never argue and they always get to go.
But… the more Nadine yelled, “I don’t want to use the office. I just need to use the bathroom.” The more I suspected mischief.
I got emphatic, “You don’t understand Nadine…”
“No!” she shouted. “You’re the one who don’t understand. You ain’t a woman. You ain’t got a vagina! You don’t…”
Now I shouted, “Excuse me but you don’t understand and here’s how it is. You’ve got two choices, take care of business in the office or go back into the classroom and be quiet. Those are the rules and they are for your protection, not for your convenience.
“And just to put your mind at rest, I’m a credentialed biology teacher so I know all about how the urinary tract works. Also, I’ve been married twice and I’ve been affianced twice more so I’ve had more years of living with vaginas than you have! So before you tell me I don’t understand – grow a prostate and then we’ll be talking as equals!
“Now, what’s it going to be Nadine, classroom or office?” Still grumbling Nadine stormed into class.
And I got reprimanded for shouting? – by a police officer? and my Principal? both of whom should have at least asked before judging! But…
Four days later it was our annual Saturday School Carnival, a day when school staff and kids and their parents get together for a (small) carnival where we get to see each other as ordinary human beings. And at the height of the event, as I was walking around, I happened to see the Principal standing over Nadine yelling at her (in front of all the parents, students and staff). I thought, ‘See. Even the mighty Principal can’t get Nadine’s cooperation without yelling.’