Last week, Jack and I took a drive through the country to Reedley Beach, along the Kings River in Reedley. The water was still running. Years of drought had transformed the river into a glorified mud puddle for the past five years. But with the rains last year, the river was a proper waterway, hence the trip to Reedley Beach.
It was quiet along the river. There were few of us about: a young couple canoodling at a picnic table, two men eating sandwiches, a couple walking their dogs, and a boy looking for a good fishing spot. Once in a while a car drove through the parking lot. No one paid us any attention. Suddenly I was aware of my bandana. I realized that I was wearing “colors.” I remembered how I knew that.
My first two years teaching the Tiny Rascals gang and the Bulldog gang were at each other hammer and tongs. There were constant fights—in the lunchroom, in the bathrooms, in the classrooms, in the hallways. I hated breaking up fights, having to do it three times, which is three too many. I preferred to prevent them in the first place. Like Mad-Eye Moody, I practiced “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” I watched for hand signs and flashes of color, always aware that either one could trigger a brawl.
I also knew when one of my students was going to get “jumped” into a gang over the weekend. He or she was nervous, distracted, and about as uninterested in the Pythagorean theorem as anyone could be. They usually caused a disruption in class. I don’t blame them; they knew what was coming. On one such occasion, the principal and I met with the father of a young man to warn him what his son was about to do. He did not believe us, and called me a smart-ass. On Monday, his son came to class beaten and bloodied; they always did.
So as I was wearing my bandana, I thought to myself, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” I scanned the park at Reedley Beach for any sign of trouble. I kept the car in sight. There was no actual danger at Reedley Beach that day; but isn’t it interesting that some habits of mind remain so firmly fixed?
Over a year ago, I encountered a young woman who was one of my students my first year teaching. She was one of those who came to school beaten and wounded from a gang initiation. At one time, I also broke up a fight between her and another girl. She remembered me. She told me that I was the nicest teacher she ever had and thanked me for being so patient with her. She also told me that she has teenage daughters of her own whom she constantly admonishes to be nice to their teachers. She tells her daughters all the time that teachers care about their students.
It was nice to hear that. I thought about that last week while I was at Reedley Beach wearing my bandana. I thought that when it comes to being nice, one should always practice “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”