Friday, February 25, 2005

94 Minutes in Band

Today the secretary called to request that I substitute in band class the last period of the day. I agreed, and although I knew I didn't want to do it, I was even agreeable in agreeing. I've done this once before. It was very loud, but it went all right. So when lunch ended, off I went to the band room.

Some kid who graduated a couple of years before was there. He was quite self-important: he obviously thought of himself as being among the most glorious products our school's band program has ever produced. Probably out there someone would agree. So as the bell rang and I began calling the roomful of moving bodies to take a seat, he came over to me to request that, if I didn't have anything planned, he might have the band play a song that he liked. I said that would be fine, but that nothing would happen until the students got their bodies into seats and I took roll. The band teacher, as usual, had left whomever was unfortunate enough to be substituting no lesson plans and at first glance I hadn't seen a rollbook either, although that did surface later. (Let me add as an aside that in this room the substitute is pretty much a prisoner: the telephone is locked in the band director's locked office...)

Seeing my adamant insistence on taking roll, the visitor began urging the students to take a seat as well. Let me simply state that this took MUCH too long. A group of adolescents should be mature enough to see a chair and get their hind parts into it, but this group simply could not. When they were finally seated, I held up the sheet for roll and stated that no one was to get out of their seat until every person's name was on the roll. I then passed it to the front row. Two of the young men found sitting in their seats too difficult and wandered about a bit. Ten minutes in and I was already going crazy.

As the roll began its slow journey around the room, the visitor decided to take advantage of the relative order to introduce himself. "I'm So-and-So, I used to be the drum major, I play this instrument and that instrument and this instrument and that instrument but I don't play that instrument because, pardon me, I don't like it, and I want to play this song with you because it is my favorite..." and a rude little girl near the front chimed in with "I think someone is bragging. Do you hear someone bragging? I do believe that someone is bragging." I told her to be quiet, but mouths like hers don't stop. She was classic prima donna of band class. So cute and so sassy. So annoying.

When the roll came back to me, a name was missing, so I had to call out the names to figure out who couldn't put two atoms of their brain together long enough to sign a piece of paper. The culprit was identified (of course this was one of the two who couldn't stay in their seats during the rolltaking process) and the visitor decided that he could take over.

His first order of business was to request that the students who hadn't brought their instruments to class be permitted to go fetch them. I halted the mad rush, stating that no one would be leaving the room without a hall pass and that students would go one at a time. I then went about looking for a pad of hall passes. Most teachers have them stowed in an accessable place. Not this one. If she had any, they were locked in the office. This was the last period of the day, a time when students feel that wandering the halls is their right and priveledge. I was simply not going to send them out without a proper hall pass. So I said that no one would be leaving. They would have to play the song with the instruments of the students who came prepared for class.

And the clamor began.

And it became scales, in unision, then in harmonics, and it became a piece of music with some obvious parts missing but melodic nontheless. The problem was its brevity: the entire exercise lasted only 10 minutes or so, and that left this group with their instruments out and no direction. And a boy bolted out of the classroom. He must have broken into a run the minute he cleared the door, because by the time I got there, he was gone. I waited and stopped him on his way in. He had gone for the mouthpiece of his tuba. I told him that he was completely off, thinking that he could leave without permission. He tried to say "sorry" to get me off my back. The thing is, these kids don't understand the meaning of the word "sorry," beyond its obvious function as a way to get someone off one's back. Not this time. I told him I would be writing him up.

Unfortunately, the tuba was now in full assembly and ready to go. The tuba player and the visitor, who had brought his own baritone tuba, began to play as loudly as their lungs could blow to the beat of the big marchingband drum. I was in hell. Every nerve ending in my body was standing on end. The visitor turned into a corner to amplify the noise. At some point, I must have had an awful look on my face, because the tuba player asked me what was wrong--were they misbehaving? No, I said, I just was not used to noise at this level. And that's the truth. Nothing in my life is that loud, not even my neighbors, who I'm sure will subject me to all kinds of poundings and slammings and yellings and playings of bass beats on the stereo at full blast this weekend.

And the visitor got bored and left.

With half an hour to go, a girl came up claiming that she absolutely had to use the bathroom. I told her that her teacher had left her high and dry without a hall pass. She sulked off, but I kept my eye on her. She appeared to be dancing, so I wrote a pass for her on pink paper and told her to go straight there and back. She did.

Around this time a boy in a grey hoodie came in the door, buzzed past me holding up a hall pass, and went to talk to a group that was practicing drumline. I went right over and asked to see his pass. He showed it to me. It said his first name, the destination was marked "RR", and the teacher's signature was illegible. The lines for date and time were blanked. I asked the young visitor who had written the pass--he gave me the name of a teacher across the hall, a new young thing who feels it's very important to be cool with the kiddies. I informed him that this room was not the restroom and told him to leave. He began to protest and I had to take him by the arm to start his movement toward the door. This was an instant when the phone would have been handy--to get security to come and haul him away (ha! as if security answered calls for help!).

A little while later he was back, with what appeared to be the teacher's handwriting having scratched out "RR" and written "bandroom." Give me a break. A teacher cannot give a child a pass to hang out in another classroom! I sent him out again, just in time for a little girl to come buzzing in. At this point, only about 15-18 minutes remain of the period. As she marches in, I ask her who she is. She snaps at me something about being the TA and moved off. I told her to turn around and speak with me, which she really did not want to do. And all of the other children are screaming "She's the TA! She can do that!" and I ask her if she has a pass. No. Where has she been? Helping another teacher with the Black History Month program. Well would she please sign in so she can be counted present today? She does and she turns around to talk with some other students.

At this point, many of them are playing a song together, and when it ended, I pounced on the opportunity. "OK! Let's get everything packed up!" I couldn't handle another minute. The TA echoed me. "Come on. Pack up." Oh. Wow. Thanks for the support. I'm sort of standing by the door now. And she heads right past me to leave. I stop her. "Where are you going?" She needed to pick up a CD from the teacher she had been working with before. This teacher's room is right down the hall. I tell her she can get it on her way out of the building when school ends. She turned around and told me no, she was going to get it now, because she had something after school, and she was not going to do it later. I told her no, she doesn't get to take that tone with me, she gets to ask permission and in this case the answer is no, because even if I had a hall pass to issue, it's only ten minutes to the bell and school policy prohibits hall passes the first and last fifteen minutes of class. She turned to leave, and I warned her that if she walked out the door, I would write her up, and she waved her arm at me and walked out.

And a big group was banging on the piano and hitting things with drumsticks, and then they moved closer to the door, and finally the bell rang and we were free. As I was waiting outside the door for someone to come lock it, I saw the grey hoodie kid emerge from the classroom across the hall, and I had to wonder why the teacher in that class felt he had time to roam the halls, it being a core area class and all, and what with the administration pressuring us to integrate some of that into our classes because the core area teachers just don't have enough time to cover all of the standards.

I went to my classroom and wrote the two referrals. Then I went to the office hoping to catch a principal. I caught all three. I first expressed my unbelief and dismay that the children play all of those instruments at full blast in such a tiny room, and then offered my two referrals, stating that the children acted attrociously, that I did not let them into the halls because half of them had not brought their instruments, and that I had not called the parents of the two children whom I had referred, implying that I wanted one of the principals to take this hell over from that point. One did. I then turned around to see my department head, who usually gets saddled to watch the band, but who had been with another class that period. She told me that the band teacher's husband had just gotten back from the middle east, but that she knew he would be coming a month ago, and why didn't she get a substitute? I laughed and said that no substitute would take them. And then I said very loudly that she needs to start leaving plans for her students to do something when she's not there, and that I was going home to put myself in an isolation tank so my nerves would quit twitching. And I didn't care who heard.

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