Kings of the Hill

Carrie Carter, a third-year teacher at Bay Cove Middle School, must confront a problem she has never faced when two boys accused of cyberbullying are moved into her class.

Carrie Carter, a third-year teacher at Bay Cove Middle School, must confront a problem she has never faced when two boys accused of cyberbullying are moved into her class.

Carrie Carter, proud of the improvements she has made in her third year teaching, looks forward to sharing her progress at a staff meeting with colleagues and her mentor, Mrs. A.

Carrie Carter

My name is Carrie Carter, and I am a third year teacher at Bay Cove Middle School. One Friday afternoon, when I had just finished posting my grades for the first grading period of the school year, I paused and took a deep breath, my pencil still poised in the fingers of my right hand. “Hallelujah!,” I thought, “The grading period has come and gone.” The time for reflection and adjustment was at hand, and I quickly took stock of my experiences during those critical nine weeks of the new school year. All in all it had gone pretty much like last year, and last year had definitely been the better of my first two years. I began to skim over last year’s lesson plans, ready to begin the second grading period, thinking of the modifications I should make. This was going to be a piece of cake. It felt good. I felt good! I hadn’t been nearly as nervous with the students this year, I wasn’t second guessing myself as much, and my instruction was much more effective. I was finally beginning to feel like a “real” teacher. Two weeks passed, and I realized that I was picking up on all kinds of little cues from my students, something that I’d never been able to do in the past. (Actually, most days my one and only concern had been to just make it to the closing bell!) Yep, I was going to make it. For the first time, tenure seemed like a possibility.

Mrs. A

The weekend passed uneventfully, and I entered my classroom Monday feeling refreshed, imagining that today I would conduct myself with all the composure I had witnessed over the last two years in my team leader, Mrs. A. She was a lifesaver and my only refuge. Mrs. A was 69 years old, but she taught with the enthusiasm of a rookie. This would be her 45th year as a classroom teacher; she had taught science at the college level, the high school level, and had volunteered to take the seventh grade science position when the new middle school was built. When I once asked her why she was teaching middle school when she had always taught at higher levels, her eyes lit up, and she answered, “It’s the lowest level my licensees will allow me to teach—oh—and because I’ve never done it before.” Her response revealed much about Mrs. A, and much about my admiration for her.

Mrs. A had called a team meeting for our conference period on Monday morning, and I was hoping she might ask us to give our personal “grading period summary of successes” from the first grading period. Frankly, my recitation of “successes” for the last two years had always been anemic compared to that of my team members, but I was almost giddy thinking about how to phrase my “successes” this time in a way to make the largest possible impact on my more seasoned colleagues.

Carrie’s hopes of sharing her successes are dashed as the staff meeting focuses on two boys—Devin and Austin—who have uploaded onto a social site a photographic account of their scandalous weekend. The meeting turns even worse when it is revealed that both boys are being moved to Carrie’s class.

Bayly

Then it happened. I instantly knew that I would not get a chance to present my “successes.” Mrs. A commenced the meeting with a measured tone. “I hate to tell you what I’m going to tell you,” she began. “I’m sure you’ve all noticed the buzz going around this morning. Well, it’s all about Devin Yeager, Austin Jordan, and Bayly Bridgewater.” A predictable group chorus of “What did they do this time?” echoed around the table. A faint grimace preceded Mrs. A’s announcement that the boys had been circulating—electronically and otherwise—a detailed account of their weekend; they had uploaded pornographic pictures and even a video onto a popular social site. Bayly had been compromised. She insisted the pictures were not posted with her consent. Her parents were furious and threatening legal action.

Click on the following to read more about cyberbullying:

Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray

Bullying of teenagers online is common, UCLA psychologists report

Schoolyard bullies get nastier online

Teens Indicted After Allegedly Taunting Girl Who Hanged Herself

Stop Cyberbullying: What is Cyberbullying?

Devin

“Right now,” she added, “everybody in the building, including the cooks and custodians, knows about all of this.” She paused for a long moment and continued. “It’s too late for us to do anything about it now. The Administration finally got word about what’s going on and has them in the office as we speak, waiting on their parents to come and pick them up. There will be grave consequences for them, because this behavior is illegal, and the police department has been contacted by several of our students’ parents. What we need to discuss is, what do we do when they come back? They both have their third period class with Bayly and I can’t imagine putting them back into a class that has her in it ever again. I can’t imagine her and these boys being in the hallways, the cafeteria, bathrooms—anywhere again. I’ve worked on her schedule and the only way we can separate these three is by taking them out of the classes they’re in together. We also have to take them out of the cafeteria for lunch and not let them pass to their classes together.” Mrs. A went on. “I spent what was left of my lunch time and put together a schedule that’ll work— with one exception.”

My mind began to race, repeating the “oh-no-please-not-me” mantra of a student desperate not to be called on. Mrs. A, who must have recognized that look on my face, turned towards me and, softening her tone to ease the blow, said, “Carrie, I’m really sorry, but we’re going to have to move Devin into your class with Austin, to get him out of the class he’s in right now with Bayly. There’s just no other way.”

Earlier in the year I had several unpleasant conflicts with both boys, and I’d barely managed to regain my control of their respective classes. Now they would both be in the same class! I could hardly think as my head began to swirl. “Not now,” I thought, “Not after I’ve just gotten to the place when I feel a certain level of confidence in being able to control my classes! Now that I’m finally able to teach the content the way everybody said I should! What had I ever done to Mrs. A? Why didn’t anybody say anything against this terrible idea?” I looked around at all of my colleagues, and finally back at Mrs. A. She broke the silence with, “We’ll take care of you Carrie, that’s a promise. Just ask anytime you need help—we’ll be there.”

Austin

Maybe I should have been thankful, or at least reassured for the offer of “help,” but they all had their own classes to keep up with too. Not to mention that Mrs. A was pushing 70 and had a husband that needed almost constant care, the other three had families, and two of the three were two-sport coaches. They’d do the best they could, I was sure, but they couldn’t stay with me the entire class period, could they? Devin and Austin would be with me every day, every minute of third period. I began to feel just a tiny bit sick. What was I supposed to do with these two boys, already legends of disorder by the time they finished the fifth grade two years ago? It was no accident that these two boys hadn’t shared a class since coming to middle school. How would I be able to accomplish what much more experienced teachers had found so difficult?

Devin and Austin return from their suspension.

On the following Monday, the Vice Principal made a trip to our wing. During our conference hour, he told us that both boys would be back in school beginning the coming Thursday. I spent the next three days trying to create plans that somehow would make it easier to keep my eye on both boys at all times, and to keep them separated so that it would be more difficult for them to form any sort of coalition. I had barely been able to keep one under control; I didn’t want to think about what might happen if they joined forces.

The day before they rejoined my classes I announced to my students that we would shuffle our seating arrangement so that they could “experience new partners to work with.” Later that afternoon, the students discovered that Devin and Austin would return to school the next day. Once again, the hallways buzzed with anticipation.

Devin

The next day, Devin and Austin started down the hallway towards classes. It was like a B movie featuring the return of Julius Caesar and his victorious Legions to Rome after conquering Egypt. I had two more classes before I was going to have to deal with the two boys in my own classroom. Should I make it look like nothing had ever happened? Should I lecture my class, moralizing about the value of repentance? Perhaps I should, instead, feign nausea, call the office, and wait for a sub to come in. Then, I could go home and the substitute would have to handle their inglorious return! My first two classes dragged slowly to an end, and my third period students started filling up the classroom. There was no question in my mind that the arrival of Devin and Austin was greatly anticipated, and there was a strange electricity in the air. All eyes focused on the doorway. Giggles became mandatory: Why, the Emperor of the world and his General were about to grace their citizens! But nobody came through the door. The passing period ended without Devin, without Austin.

I began class by reminding more than half the class that their notebooks should have been out and on their desks four minutes ago; perhaps they ought to consider copying the assignment on the front board like they had been doing all year long. They moaned in unison and began copying the information I’d provided on the board, while I kept one eye on the door. Five minutes went by, eight minutes, and still no Devin, no Austin. I began a short review of yesterday’s lesson and the class, in turn, started to settle down. Was I being blessed by a supernatural being? Just as I began to relax, I turned my head to answer a question and the whole room went wild. A smirking Devin strode into the room to receive the cheers and adulation of the class, less my students now than his admirers. I froze. I fought the urge to run. My mouth went dry. I heard someone say, “Boys, you’re late, do you have a pass from the office?” It was me, but it didn’t sound like me. It was a tiny, soft, far away voice; a voice that didn’t sound at all like it came from the person in control—at least nominally—of this classroom.

Devin and Austin disturb her class, and Carrie, distraught, seeks solace in Mrs. A.

Devin took four or five steps into the room and stopped. Austin, following a few steps behind him, awkwardly lunged to his left, narrowly avoiding crashing into Devin. Devin made a point to finish a short conversation with a girl in the front row, and shook his long hair away from his eyes with an almost invisible toss of his head. He fixed steely, mocking eyes on me for a couple of seconds and finally said, “I had to go to the john, Teach.” A ripple of giggles spread throughout the classroom and faces began to light up everywhere. They had all had heard this many times before, and they all knew exactly what would follow. So did I, but by this point I was merely a puppet—I simply didn’t stand a chance.

Click the following links to learn more about similar behavior in young elephants:

Elephant Youth Gangs

60 Minutes: The Biggest Big Brother Program in the World

The Secret Language of Elephants

My breathing became faster and shorter as I responded, “But you’re almost 20 minutes tardy. What were you both doing?” Devin took a step towards me as an almost imperceptible smile came over his face. Of course he was amused! I had just played into his hands. He flipped his hair back yet again, and with an expression that claimed he had been terribly offended, announced to the entire room, maybe even to the two rooms on either side of the class room, “Hey, I ain’t no homo!”

The class erupted. I tried to yell above the din for him to get out of my classroom, to go to the office immediately. Austin clapped Devin on the back, and a few of the boys high-fived him. I watched in disbelief as he sauntered to the back of the room and sidled down with a second girl, who smiled at Devin admiringly.

And me? I choked back tears and started toward Mrs. A’s room.