Gunfight at the Furniture Store

Gunfight: Store Owner Fights Back

It was the Monday morning after Easter Sunday. I had the local TV news on to catch the weather report. I was rolling around on the living room floor doing stretches before heading out for my before-school cardio when I heard the news. “In our top story, Store Owner Fights Back. Yesterday, a gunfight erupted when three men attempted to rob a furniture store at gunpoint. The owner pulled his own gun, and foiled the attempted armed robbery, killing the gunman and wounding another.”

Wow! I thought, ‘What kind of fools decide to rob a furniture store? And on Easter Sunday!’ Unfortunately, I found out. The fools were from my school!

Now don’t judge my kids too harshly. Some of them were really great kids who just had to make up credits. I’m still in touch with some of them who are now adults and I consider them my adopted children.

But, some of my kids were fools on their way to the penitentiary or the cemetery. This is one of their stories.

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Gangstas Have Cars

Gangstas Have Cars. It’s a Warning.

I’ve noticed something unexpected when I promote my writing. My intended audience is kids, parents, teachers, and politicians, pretty much anyone with an interest or a stake in education. What surprises me is that some of them dismiss my book or blog by saying, “Oh we’re just not interested in that gangster stuff. It doesn’t apply to us.” To which I reply, “I think you should be interested in that gangster stuff because gangstas have cars.” Here’s some reasons and then, if you’re still not convinced, a very scary story.

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Spring Valley High: What I would have done to avoid the assault.

Spring Valley HighYou’re not asking the right questions.

I have worked in some very violent, dangerous and/or stressful school situations. Most people just don’t know how tough it can be. Therefore I was saddened at the naive, hysterical reactions of the public, the news media and the commander of the officer in the Spring Valley High video. Why do I call the outpouring of anger and outrage at the video hysterical? It is hysterical because there was a rush to judgement without enough of the right questions being asked or answered. The following will be an examination of what I believe to be the most important and relevant questions as well as an examination of possible alternative actions and outcomes.

In each of the following segments I want you to ask yourself, ‘What are my cherished beliefs? What do I know about child rearing, discipline and teaching? Before I judge the Resource Officer at Spring Valley High, what would I have done differently?’

These beginning questions are important because too many times, whether talking about school discipline or law enforcement, people have the tendency to say, “You should not have done that.” But they can’t say or can’t demonstrate what should have or could have been done that would have been more effective or less stressful. I will.

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Busted for Shouting!

8.6.15 Shout.jpegI 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.

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The Greatest Shame

12.8.14 Guilt iStock_000005994502SmallWe got fighters.

One semester we had a group of dedicated fighters.  They (guys and girls!) got into a big fight at a local park with kids from another school.  We know this because it was in the early days of YouTube and the kids had video recorded the action, posted it and then bragged about it.  As soon as we adults saw the videos we made sure the police were notified and we had YouTube take down the videos.  The video pugilists were expelled from school.

Sadly, while investigating those public crimes, we discovered evidence of an even more heinous crime which had been perpetrated right under our noses at school!  What shamed me the most about it was the fact that, in my eyes, I/we had done everything right and yet I was still unable to protect one of my kids.

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Teachers Get Bullied Too

Smaller FearChildren aren’t the only ones who get bullied.

Bullying travels in every direction following the shifting currents of power.  Yes, even teachers get bullied.  Sometimes we are able to handle it and the bully doesn’t succeed (see: Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’).  But sometimes even the most experienced and toughest of us can feel unsure of what to do next or what will happen next and that can bring on a very deep fear.  I have felt that fear.

It seemed to have happened both gradually and swiftly (I know that sounds absurd but that’s how it seemed).  One minute I was giving an assignment and the next I was being threatened by a boy much larger and younger than myself and he was saying things like, “What you gonna do about it?  You gonna hit me?”

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A Conversation with P. M. DeVuono

9.18.14 FotoFlexer_Photo copyWhat is What Happened to David about?

What Happened to David provides a new twist on what it’s like to be bullied. It tells the story of what it’s like to stand up for yourself and then get sent to an alternative school because of it.

In What Happened to David, 15-year-old Mary tells us how she was bullied, victimized and unfairly sent from a magnet school to a tough alternative school where she met David, another victim of an unfair system. Their love grows as they adapt to their new school. Just as she starts to feel safe, Mary’s past returns with tragic consequences. This is a story about violence, young love, obsession, belonging, loss, and survival at school.

Can a book about an alternative school be useful to all students or is it only for those who have been in trouble?

This book is for everyone. This is a book about survival and dealing with loss. Those challenges happen in everyone’s lives and at every school. The fictional people and situations described in the book were inspired by real world experiences at over 35 different schools over 25 years. This book can also be useful for the child who is being bullied or for schools dealing with bullying. It could be given to or studied with parents as an example of how difficult it is to deal with bullies.

Where did you get the idea for What Happened to David?

I taught at an alternative school for 20 years. I realized that there were no books written about my students. I wanted to tell their story. I wanted this to be a gift to all those kids who worked hard to prove that an alternative school really can be an oasis of second chances.

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The Bully on the Bus: Part 2

YMCA 2Ben was my friend.

Ben was also the school fat guy at a time when childhood obesity was not yet the epidemic norm it is now.  I know it sounds awful to call Ben the fat guy but he was overweight and that made him a target for school bullies.  However, Ben was my friend.  He took pictures of my band!  And any artist or entertainer will tell you that we have strong propensities toward vanity and anyone who supports our art is a friend indeed.

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The Bully on the Bus: Part 1

The Bully on the busWhat do you do with the bully on the bus?

What to do about a bully is not always clear cut.  I want you to put yourself in this teacher’s shoes and ask yourself, ‘What would I do about the bully?’

David Calvin was a history teacher at a small, midwestern, religious based high school.  Along with teaching history, one of his duties was to drive a school bus full of students from the city to school in the suburbs in the morning and back to the city again after school.  It was a nerve-racking and thankless job but Mr. Calvin believed in helping his school as much as he could.

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The Snake and the Fist in the Face

9.30.14 Garter Snake iStock_000016388184SmallEmpathy

This is a case of emotions overruling good judgement.  I will probably come off as weak, stupid or crazy.  If so, mea culpa!  But these posts about school violence are leading to a tragic conclusion; and if you are to understand the horror and shame I experienced as a teacher, I have to come clean about my shortcomings as well as my triumphs (check out A Ticklish Approach to Self-Defense).

You see, I feel the hurts of others very strongly.  I can’t stand to see others suffer.  Empathy is defined in Wikipedia as “the capacity to share or recognize emotions experienced by another sentient being.”  My empathy goes way beyond that.  Back when I was a kid in the hospital, even though my face was cut, bleeding and stitched back together (see How I Got Gangsta’ Street Credit Without Getting Shot), I was always way more upset at witnessing the pain of the other kids than at my own suffering (‘the eye sees not itself but by reflection, by some other thing’ Julius Caesar Act I,ii).  This wasn’t and isn’t nobility.  It’s a curse.  Occasionally it’s a help, but mostly it’s a curse.  I cry in movies.  I cry during the T.V. news.  Once during an American Literature class I was teaching, I read an example poem out loud and started to cry in front of my students.  “Hey Mr. D. are you crying?!?”  Yeah!  So what?

You needed to know that to understand what I did in high school and what I did back in 8th grade.

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