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[personal profile] judifilksign
This week, one of my students, "Mary Jane Doe" was triggered on one of her issues by one of the story selections we were reading, "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes.  It's a 5th year poem in the U.K., a 7th grade selection in my district's textbook adoption.  In it, Bess is tied up by the redcoats as bait for a trap for her lover the highwayman.  She shoots herself to warn him, and he comes back for revenge only to be shot down.  Their ghosts meet.

One of the other students said, at the redcoats sniggering, and kissing her, "They totally raped her," several times.  This student WAS redirected.  Mary Jane became upset, and asked to be excused, tears running down her face.  I nodded permission for her to go (she was clearly upset.)  She dashed from the room, followed by one of the staff.

Now, the next day, my boss comes into my classroom to discuss the incident, and question my decision to include a triggery and upsetting piece of literature. Summarizing my meeting, which consisted of my boss coming in as I was teaching the class before my planning period, and then a good chunk of my planning period unexpectedly became this meeting:

I found myself having to defend my teaching of "The Highwayman".  Um.  It's a famous poem, included in the middle school text adopted by the district, and is a key part of understanding the next selection, Angela's Ashes, in which the poem is prominently featured.  

- Well, perhaps I could remove it from the curriculum.  
  I'd had several Incident Reports written about me regarding the above incident with Mary Jane Doe.  Reviewing the Incident Reports, I found that one had written by a staff who wasn't even in my room, and thus hearsay, claiming that *I* had been the one making rape an issue.  I was grateful that another staff, who HAD been in the room, clarified that it was another student who'd been waxing on at length about rape, and that I had in fact, shut that nonsense down.

I then reported what had happened.

- Why hadn't I written my own Incident Report?  
Children ask for time away from class to pull themselves together all of the time.  No violence or property damage had happened in my class, no incident report.  Youth care staff would include information about time away from class in Mary Jane's daily notes.  The student who had made the rape comment appeared to be remorseful afterward, unhappy that she'd made another student cry.

-Christmas is coming up, a triggery time for students, what did I plan to teach?
"Hamadi", "Gift of the Magi" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

(Suprised face)
(Unspoken thought - you ask me, expecting an answer, and when I answer, you're surpised?) Spoken:  "Hamadi" is about an Islamic man who goes Christmas Caroling with some American high schoolers and teaches tolerance, something strongly needed in our post-9/11 world.  "Gift of the Magi" is a classic tale of love and sacrifice by O. Henry.  "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is a narrative poem that is also a tall tale, humorous, and set at Christmas."
-Well, good! Those sound fabulous.  
(Unspoken thought - so glad you approve.)

My boss winds up our little talk with another admonition to be cautious about what I teach to the students.  We review that I am NOT teaching Macbeth because of clinical concerns, instead teaching Hamlet, ( a decision previously made in consultation with clinicians) that The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter were off the list, but that I could teach Moby Dick.

I found myself seething at the implied notion that I am not able to decide what types of literature are appropriate for my students.  I often check with clinicians before teaching some of my content (Macbeth, Maus, "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge"), and resented being micromanaged, like I was being censored.  I figured my boss was trying to be responsive to the clinical side of the treatment facility at which I work, because I'd had so many complaints.  I just couldn't figure out why I'd had so many complaints over something that within the classroom had been so minor.

Today, I found out that Mary Jane, after leaving my room, had led staff on a merry run around the campus, ending up in the horse barn, where she set off the fire alarm in her pique.  There was an equestrian class in session, and one of the other residents was thrown from her horse and trampled by it.  She has now returned from the hospital with a neck brace and her ribs taped up.

I now understand why so many people are waving pointed fingers.  Someone got hurt, and they want each step in the sequence of why this happened to be well-documented and blame laid firmly at SOMEone's feet.  I'm annoyed that I'm being tarred in the general roundup, though my meeting with my boss appears to have covered it.  

I still stand by my decision to teach the selection.  While saddened that Mary Jane became distraught while in my room as a result of something we read, it is not MY fault she decided to take that anger and set off a fire alarm, setting a sequence of events in which some one got hurt.  What Mary Jane decided to do with her anger and pain is on her, not on me.  If she had gone out, spoken with one of the available staff on hand for emotional crisis, been upset, that would be fine.  Breaking the law by setting off the fire alarm and sending the squad out on a false alarm is another.

(I find myself wondering whether the squad that responded to the false alarm ended up taking care of the trampled girl.  A false alarm, resulting in an actual run.)

Well, I haven't actually been censored.  Maybe I'm being over-sensitive.  Yet, I am still unhappy that coworkers think I would set off a student by being oblivious to their emotional issues in what I teach.

Much of literature at the middle and high school level starts getting uncomfortable.  "Most Dangerous Game," "To Build a Fire," and Romeo and Juliet are just the beginnings, y'know?

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