Are You Gay?

Are You Gay?

“Are You Gay?” Students have asked this question a lot in classrooms where I have taught, particularly when I was a substitute teacher. Why? Because it’s an easy way to derail a lesson. Once asked, it must be EFFECTIVELY answered or the class/lesson descends into homophobic giggling or worse.

This isn’t about being ashamed or trying to hide. It’s about keeping the class on task. I live in West Hollywood. My wife swam with West Hollywood Aquatics (a predominately, but not exclusively, openly gay swim team) and so I have met more than a few gay and lesbian teachers who have been asked this inappropriate question and some did not know how to respond. I write this for them and for any teacher who doesn’t want to be trapped by this question.

It is important to note that I was never asked about my sexual orientation by any openly gay students (see Embarrassing Questions). I am spectacularly handsome but I don’t think I give off a particularly gay vibe. When I was gigging with drummer PT (he’s the guy who recommended I should substitute teach for additional income which started my teaching career), he used to get angry with me on the job and on the break one night he fiercely scolded me, “Would you please get your head into the job? I can always tell when a pretty girl comes in the room because your playing goes to hell. Stop checking out the girls and get your head into the music!” He was right.

Mad Magazine and a word of caution

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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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Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’

11.29.14 2 choices Gang iStock_000005364632LargeI got a gangsta’ challenge.

Andre and Nicolas were not doing their math.  They were talking nasty stuff about jail.  They were showing off, whispering just loudly enough to make their private conversation public.  This was at a time when we had some pretty tough customers for students and it was obvious that Andre and Nicolas were working at showing how tough they were.  They didn’t need to.  At a school full of hard guys, Andre was easily one of the toughest and Nicolas wasn’t far behind.  They were trying to show the other kids that they could bully me.  I hadn’t been their teacher for very long so they were testing me.

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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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A Ticklish Approach To Self-Defense

PMDiconFight or Self-Defense?

“Hey Mr. D!  Would you ever fight a student?”  It was a common question I’d heard over the years.  To which, I would always answer, “No.”  “You mean you’d let some kid hit you?” they’d ask, voices filled with incredulity.  “No, No.  You are asking me two different questions.  You see, I think of a fight as a contest for dominance which requires self restraint.  Getting hit requires self-defense.”  Now dear reader you may rightly accuse me of semantic hair splitting and you’d be correct.  But, sometimes in the classroom, even the bald guy has to split a few hairs to get his point across.  There is a difference between a contest for dominance and a life saving battle of self-defense.  At this point if Erick was in the room he’d say, “Hey Mr. D., tell that story about that time when you were a kid – you know what I mean.”  And I’d have to tell it all again…

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A Tale of Two Beatings

Cock FightKnow when to fight and when to run.

When it comes to violence or bullying (not just gambling), you’ve got to know when to walk away and know when to run.  Let me repeat my previous words of caution: what worked for me may not work for you.  I recommend always following the law; always tell an adult or authority figure when you’ve been threatened or injured.  But as we all know, there are times when there is no help to be had and you have to make a decision on the spot (this is a theme of my book What Happened to David). 

When I wrote about getting bullied (see I Was Bullied) I said that there were times when I stood my ground and took a beating and when circumstances were different I wasn’t ashamed to run.  Here are two tales of how I made my decisions.

Stand Your Ground and Walk Away

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