Except when referring to padded cells, when people talk about “rubber rooms” they are as likely as not talking about the New York education system’s reassignment centers, where teachers accused of misconduct bide their time until the district determines what to do with them.

I thought about that when I was confronted with a different sort of educational holding cell: alternative schools.

The school district I grew up in had an alternative school. It was a godsend. It took all (well, most) of the people that were disrupting everything in the regular classrooms and getting them the heck out of the way. I never labored under the illusion that they were getting much an education over there. I didn’t really care, though, because they weren’t getting an education where they were and at least this way they weren’t preventing anybody else from doing so. My perspective changed a little bit when I discovered that a friend of mine (a couple grades back) was sent to one. I never knew what for. I never asked. But he was a bright kid. I sort of gave him my sympathies as politely as I could (“That must have been tough” or something like that), but he actually shrugged it off. I hadn’t realized what a hellish place I thought it to be.

I have a couple of times been given an assignment to Redstone’s alternative school. It isn’t a hellish place. It helps, I suppose, that the school is comparatively underpopulated. When filling in for a social studies teacher for a half-day, I had all of six students over three periods assigned to the class. Only two showed up at all. My second assignment (another half-day) there was for PE. I thought that would be awful, but it wasn’t, really. Thirty kids over two periods. They self-organized and did their own thing.

The reason my only two assignments there have been half-days is that it seems largely staffed by coaches. So they miss half-days when they have some competition halfway across the state. While there are always exceptions, it was my experience that coaches tend to be the least… engaged… of classroom teachers.

The Missing Portion of the Post:

There is an “alternative” school in Callie. A military school, actually, in close to the literal sense. It’s run in conjunction with the local national guard. It’s for the real hard cases from all around the state. I’ve never actually seen the campus, but I do see the kids marching around town in a “TEN-HUT!” sort of way. The Callie Academy is for the really hard cases. From bits and pieces I here, that’s where kids go before they get kicked out of the system entirely. My wife sees a lot of them as patients. She says that they are actually uniformly polite with the “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and among the most respectful patients she has. Instead of being accompanied by a parent, they’re accompanied by instructors (looking over their shoulders, I imagine, and causing the exceptional behavior).

This couldn’t be any more different than Redstone’s Alternative school. That’s where it really is approached more as a holding tank. I’ve frankly never seen anything like it. A fifteen year old pregnant girl in the hallway drops a pack of cigarettes and a teacher says “Hey, Molly, you dropped your cigarettes!” She picked them up and was on her way (yes, this actually happened). My own cigarettes never leave the car and aren’t even supposed to be there. There is no time I pull into the school and there aren’t a handful of kids smoking cigarettes at the grocery store across the street. I go to another corner of said grocery store, just so that I am not actually smoking with the students.

My first assignment had a kid take a cell phone call during class. The principal walked in. I’d told him to get off, but he waved me off saying he’d be done in a minute. The principal actually walked in at that point. I thought I was going to be in trouble, but he didn’t care. During PE, some kids who were ditching class came in and joined in the fun. I told the principal, who sent one kid back but let the rest stick around.

The odd thing about it is that the kids actually aren’t all that bad. They are mostly completely indifferent. They can’t really be bothered to challenge authority. Or maybe they just already won. When I had them for PE, I was left a note that they needed to play volleyball or basketball. Instead, they chose to play dodgeball. I told them that I would let the regular coach know that they said it was okay and they shrugged it off. They were pretty brutal with one another with volleyballs being thrown at heads from a few feet away. Never a complaint, though. Compare this to dodgeball in the grade school where all of my time is consumed comforting some kid that’s crying. (I’ve come to the conclusion that the bans on dodgeball have little to do with kids actually getting hurt – they’re really quite resilient – but rather a lot more to do with how annoying and time-consuming it is for teachers.)

They’re also oddly – and refreshingly, in some ways – self-directed. Fewer actual fights and feuds than in regular school. Everyone seems to know the hierarchy and acts accordingly. The weaker kids seem to be perceived as a waste of the stronger kids’ time.

I don’t know what the difference is between these kids and the ones who get sent to the military school. I suspect that the latter are considerably further down the misbehavior path. I also think it depends on what the parents consent to (a lot won’t consent to their kid being sent across the state). It’s kind of funny that the system has given up on one set of bad kids, but is going the extra mile with what I suspect are a worse set of kids.

I consider a lot of public education to be a mere holding tank, but this was the first school I had ever been to that seemed to simply accept its role as such. I don’t really know how I feel about that. It seems honest, but also depressing. And I do wonder what is going to happen to these kids when they are allowed to leave the system. And if the results are actually any worse than in a regular classroom. One of the worst assignments I ever had was a remedial class at the middle school. I don’t know what separated those kids from the ones shipped off to the alternative school. But lordy, lordy, were they worse-behaved. It just seemed to bring out the worst in them. A constant tug-of-war with struggle and rebellion.

So maybe, in the end, maybe this is the lesser of evils. Or maybe it’s just easier. It’s hard to say.

Category: School

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4 Responses to The Other Rubber Rooms (Updated)

  1. Peter says:

    My high school had an alternative program that held classes in the late afternoon after regular classes were dismissed for the day. One thing you learned very quickly is that if you were in the school after hours for a gym or auditorium activity, under no circumstances whatsoever were you to go anywhere near the wing where the alternative program met. Failure to heed this rule could be a very risky proposition.

  2. Logtar says:

    I think our form of alternative school was at night and only for seniors or something like that. I didn’t really have much knowledge of it. Back in Colombia people were simply kicked out. Education was thought of differently there so there were not many schools that I attended that did not want to be there.

  3. trumwill says:

    Logtar, I assume by “education was thought of differently” I assume you mean that it was not considered to be a compulsory thing?

    If so… what are your thoughts on that? Should it be? I’d be interested in the perspective of someone with exposure to both cultures.

  4. Logtar says:

    Basically everyone I grew up with (middle class neighborhood down in Colombia) wanted to go to school and do good. The people I knew that went to public schools were even more dedicated than some in private ones. Everyone wanted to go to school and do good, they went the to get knowledge and an education. While there was still people that did not take it seriously, bullies and all the others stuff; it is really looked down upon to not want to learn.

    Here in the US I was the complete opposite. Most people could care less about learning, some cared about getting good grades, but most (at least in my highschoo) were there to kill time until the next period. Teachers seemed to be more babysitters than actual educators. I saw that during the first year, then I started to learn that my school had 3 levels of classes, basic, regular and honors. I got to take a couple of honor classes my last year but everything else was regular classes except for one of my ESL and one of my English classes.

    I did not know anyone that ended up in that nigth school in high school in the US, but I have a faint memory of it existing for the people that were identified as gang bangers and got caught with drugs or a gun at school. I only did 2 years here in the US though, so I might have seen or met a lot more people in that situation if I had done more schooling here.

    I do think that people should be self starters when it comes to education. Sure, parent should help you get up and motivate you; but ultimatly how can someone learn if they have not rationalized that you are in a school to gather knowledge?

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