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Professionalism on the way out the door


From: Jean Womack (jeaneger_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Jun 06 2003 - 17:21:33 PDT

I guess some people would like it if they could intimidate me into not
complaining about that student who threatened to kill me and then threatened
to get his lawyers after me. I wrote a lot of referrals on him and sent
them to the vice principal, the special ed counselor and someone else, I
forget who it was. I told the police officer about it even though the vice
principal tried to discourage me from doing so. He was going around the
classroom telling people he had tried marijuana and yelling Sunnydale and
the N word. And touching everyone. I thought he was trying to intimidate
them and organize them. He started a fight with the another student who was
apparently protecting the girls in the classroom. He was a big guy too. I
got along pretty well with the rest of the students and I gave them a lot of
art elements and art principles notes to take, along with some art projects.
They even sent him in to me an extra period for a TA. He didn't like the
art work I put up on the wall, original silk screen prints from the Berkeley
Art Center, that I had bought at an Open Studios event. As he left the room
that day, he said to me, "I could have a gun at your head," as he went out
the door. I told the special ed counselor and she told me that he had
threatened me. I had not taken it as a threat. Then he really did threaten
me, told me all the things he was going to do to me after school, so fast
that I could not remember the words. People threatened to kill me when I
published a neighborhood newspaper for ten years and I usually did what they
wanted, when they did that. I just don't like having to shut up about it.
I asked for an escort to my car that day. What was I supposed to do?
Knuckle under and let him choose the art work that I was going to show to
the class? He needs to learn to communicate without threatening people,
because if he doesn't like a print showing a slave, then I can find
something else to put up on the wall that doesn't upset him so much. The
fellow who taught after I left there, put a lot of posters on the wall that
were a lot more radical than the ones I had. I can always show Walt Disney
flicks if it gets to that point, but then the other students won't get much
of an art education, will they? If he wants to be an art teacher, he ought
to go to college for 30 years, like I did. Some of the students were
disappointed when I left, and it's true that I felt very defeated. However,
substitute teaching has been very instructional for me. I even went back
there a couple of times as a substitute.

My master teacher said that if you get into a fight with a student you will
not win, because a student has more rights than you do--if he was a student,
and not a plainclothes officer. That's why I quit that job and went back to
substitute teaching. I'm not going to take it to the Supreme Court. I will
just go get a job at another school. Fortunately, I don't have to support a
family, so I can take the hit--the reduction in pay. But not forever. Not
after all those years of preparation for teaching art. I have a student
loan to pay, just like everyone else, and my house needs repairs.

Jean Womack