Teaching High School in Brooklyn is a Contact Sport

A teacher from one of the schools that shares our building got jumped today during a routine fire drill. Williamsburg Prep resides in the old Harry Van Arsdale Middle School building along with 4 other small high schools, each making common space of the gym and cafeteria. Among the many distressing facets of this communal life are the shared fire drills. As was the case today, all 5 schools empty out of the building onto the streets and sidewalks of the surrounding neighborhood like unbranded cattle. In the mass of bodies a handful of pupils invariably make the great escape attempt you always dreamed of making in high school. Normally, however, overall order is maintained.

Today the sanctity of the teacher-student relationship was violated in a most perverse way. I am not aware of how the situation really began, there are conflicting reports, but I do know that as I made my way through the sea of teenage bodies, toward the action, I noticed a teacher in the center. To my left, two students were banging each other into a brick wall, deftly jabbing the other’s face as they were able. I approached carefully, when suddenly to my right the aforementioned teacher threw off his jacket and raised his arms in defiance of a few students who were standing in opposition. I was starting to doubt that he actually was a teacher. He had a certain smile and glint in his eye, as if to say “I might have been a teacher in some previous life, but now I am human and I will destroy you.” Someone later told me he had been in the Army. He was a big guy. I should say that the crowd liked this gesture and expressed this feeling with a menacing cheer. Very shortly following, the police arrived and rounded up the offending parties.

At this point every threshold, tipping point, and Rubicon had been crossed. The mass of bodies followed the well worn paths of destructive Group-Think, known so well by European soccer hooligans and teenagers everywhere, and began to literally walk and jump on the cars that lined the street. It all looked like the L.A. riots of the 90’s, with people running wildly in all directions, vehicles being treated like furniture.

Its worth noting that the NYC Department of Education is very explicit on its policy concerning teachers breaking up fights. Any injuries sustained by a teacher while intervening in a student altercation WILL NOT be covered by insurance. So most teachers tend to stay away from these things. It seems like they keep finding me.