A teacher with The Force

Ms. Cornelius walked into school before 7 a.m. and broke up a fight between two girls while the school cop stood gaping.

I am sure the copper was stunned by my mad skillz as I put Dummy Number 1 up against a wall before she went back for a third helping of butt-whupping, but really . . . You can’t move faster than a middle-aged fat lady?

But one of my students who witnessed the whole debacle emailed me a .wav file of Darth Vader saying “Impressive.” Now that made me laugh after a long, hard day.

I’m impressed.

About Joanne


  1. Margo/Mom says:

    Clearly “old school,” and I am sure that there will be folks who write in to say that they wouldn’t dare intervene for fear of a lawsuit or worse. But, as someone who has worked with kids and developed a set of instincts of my own, I’m with the teacher.

    I am not certain that cops in schools are provided with any of the tools to respond to a population that is different from random offenders on the street–and I think that in the end, we have caused more problems than we have solved. I recall my son having difficulty at school one day trying to get the attention of the teacher on duty at bus loading because it looked to him like a kid around the corner of the building was in a fight. The teacher (who I really liked–but her five foot nothin’ 85# self should never have been the only teacher on bus duty), explained that the cops trained them “never walk towards a fight.” Great advice if you are out on the street breaking up who knows what between who knows whom. In a middle school, the reality is that the kids are counting on the adults to stop them before they do something really stupid. And in the closed community of a school, one ought to have a few notions about who can stand up, who can walk away and who is going to get creamed if it’s not stopped.

    I am personally glad to hear from a teacher that doesn’t rely on the cop–I have seen far too many silly adults escalate things out of control simply because they know that they have “back-up” and won’t have to live with the results of their actions.

  2. If I read of a union demand for district-supplied light sabers I’ll know who to blame.

  3. We’re sometimes told to walk don’t run to the fight,but if you’re afraid to get bloodied you shouldn’t be a teacher. I’ve only approached one student who showed me a weapon, but obviously I’ve dealt with many situations where the weapon remained hidden. In those situations, don’t you want an adult handling it not a kid. Also, some of the punches I’ve taken would have sent a high school student to the hospital. But I’ve taken dozens of punches in school fights/riots. Its a part of the job.

    And when I get hit by stay punches, I get to rag on the combatant mercilessly. You got to laugh these things off. And we don’t have to go back to dangerous neighborhoods after school unless we want to. The kids don’t have that freedom.

  4. Kevin Smith says:

    I end up breaking up a lot of fights, but I’m a 6’2″ 250 lb former linebacker who paid the bills in college as a bouncer. I ussually just pick one kid up and walk away. I recommend to all our female teachers and some of the male ones that they run for the intercom, not the fight. I’ve had therapeutic restraint training (worked with a couple Willie M.’s) and am pretty hard to damage. A teacher getting hurt by the students would make discpline harder (like breaking a dam).

    I will say I have broken up only one fight in the last four years that involved even one male (and he was getting beaten up by a girl). What have we done in our culture now that all these young females are out to beat each other up all the time?

  5. Margo/Mom says:

    Oh, Kevin. To have had an intercom. I recall during my time as a GED teacher–where my students spanned recent drop-outs/push-outs required to attend so as not to lose welfare benefits (including kids with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities) all the way through senior citizens coming back to pick up something they had not been able to attain years ago. The one fight that I recall happened in a park, on the last day of school (determined every year based on when the money ran out). It was a face-off headed for a shoving match between two young women. My technique–honed in years of residential camping and stopping fights just AFTER they got off the school bus next to the center where I worked–was to step in between facing the one most likely to listen to me and start talking things down.

    I have a friend (female)who served many years as an assistant principal who relied on the same method. I wouldn’t want to try it in a situation where the parties are strangers (to me). But there are ways–and sometimes more effective than those available to the more physically well endowed.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Got a friend whose daughter had some physical challenges in HS and college but is now a special ed teacher in a remote town with unfavorable demographics–much drinking, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.
    She, although only average attractive, had such a shining personality that she was voted Homecoming Queen in high school.
    She still shines.
    Now, if any of her special ed kids give her a hard time, the rest of them take the perp out back and beat the crap out of him.
    Be nice to be able to bottle that.

  7. A reason for approaching a fight at a walk is taking in the picture. As they taught us, its easy to see who is the aggressor and who is wanting to disengage. So you deal with the aggressor. Of course, using the student’s name can be helpful, but some are so out-of-control that little will work. The key is the adult’s have the benefit of situational awareness. (I understand my technique is the opposite of Margo/moms but that’s what the mental health professionals taught us and its worked. And if your back is to the less aggressive you are less vulnerable to a KO punch.)

    I don’t think the issue is male or female or the size of the adult. But, make sure you keep your balance.

    And afterwards, keep your sense of humor. After the Buff (his Crip name) was too caught up in attacking a Blood to even see me, and knocked me off the stairs and about 10 feet in the air, we calculated the footpounds of force he generated making my (then) 235 lbs airborne.

  8. Kevin Smith says:

    Margo you must deal with a friendlier group than I’m familiar with. In our experience here the result of what you describe is that the one you have your back turned on takes a free shot at the one you’re talking to. But your technique also requires arriving on scene before blows begin being thrown and having kids that don’t just charge straight at the person they are mad at and go to swinging with no build-up. What you describe is what we write-up as a confrontation and not a fight.

    Richard we have teachers like that here….in fact we have one teacher who has the grandchildren of a couple of the first students she taught in her classes now and giving her any serious grief wold probably get you killed (at home if not at lunch). But in all the time I’ve been at this school there has only been one fight that occurred in a classroom, most of what we get is students in the halls and cafeteria. We do prevent a fair number of problems by listening to the chatter om who is mad at who and keeping them apart, but even with that you still have the ones that just don’t talk about it before hand. And as I said, it’s almost all girls….I still don’t get how we got to this point.

  9. Margo/Mom says:

    John, and others: I have no problem debating “technique,” but my point is that we have frequently moved to a point of stand-offishness and at times actual escalation as a result of many things, including a reliance on “security” to solve problems. The teacher that I cited was not saying that she was taught “walk, don’t run,” but rather “don’t go there,” because everyone is potentially armed and dangerous. Again–I argue that this makes some sense from a law enforcement stand point, but not within the context of a school. And I would reiterate that in a rational system this teacher would not have been selected to be the lone person on bus duty.

    I have watched teachers lay down ridiculous challenges to angry students as well as parents with the back-up that unless there is compliance they will call for security. This results in actual arrests of students for offenses that in any other setting would merit nothing more than advice to take the problem elsewhere. It also results in numerous legal actions in the form of “no trespassing” orders filed against parents.

    There is at times a somewhat macabre fascination with trading stories about how bad one school is in comparison with another–stories of “what we have to put up with.” I just don’t hear much on balance (and John–you may count yourself as an exception) of stories of how someone who appeared to be a challenge at first was befriended and their assets discovered.

  10. Margo/mom

    You write:

    “I have watched teachers lay down ridiculous challenges to angry students …”


    “I just don’t hear much on balance (and John–you may count yourself as an exception) of stories of how someone who appeared to be a challenge at first was

    I see both almost every day. People are complicated, and that my point.

    I agree that too many kids are getting arrested, but we’d disagree on the cause. I find it humiliating that educators are so incapable of enforcing their rules that we have to contract out discipline to law enforcement. Teachers are so frustrated though, that I’m in a minority.

    I have seen plenty of times when educators have been way too slow in intervening when parents are severely beating their kids at school. But on a daily basis I see parents abusing teachers, and more often, adiminstrators. I’ve never seen the disrespect returned.

    And that is a remarkable statement. Teachers still need to show more respect to students regardless of the abuse we take, but, in my experience, we also need to show much more gumption in dealing with parents. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a meeting and afterwards I was in the minority in saying that the behavior towards the kid that we all saw had crossed the line and deserved a referral to DHS. In every case that I recall, we were outvoted.

    But what are we really debating? We’re really debating whether the family, for reasons that we should all be able to agree on, has has collapsed to the point where teachers are accurately describing the pathologies we witness. I don’t think I’m exagerrating.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    John, I recall sitting in a principal’s office for a meeting, that was totally unrelated to either my child or any situation that might ordinarily be considered to be either stressful or a source of conflict. The meeting had been rescheduled three times to avoid inconveniencing the teachers involved. I had moved my schedule each of those times resulting in finally taking most of the afternoon off to attend. I remember sitting in the office, observing the overt rudeness of the teachers–and thinking that no one who was not there would ever believe me if I tried to tell them exactly what I had experienced there. While there were not initially disrespectful to me (in fact, my presence, as a mere parent, was simply overlooked), they were universally late and absolutely disrespecting of the principal for calling the meeting. After a few minutes listening to the whine, I finally interjected that I had not only changed my schedule several times for their convenience, but, in the end had taken the rest of the day off in order to accommodate them–and by then I was getting testy. My goodness, you would not have believed the affront!

    My point is that teachers are not necessarily good judges of when their behavior towards parents (and perhaps towards students) is inappropriate. And the same goes on down to various support staff up to and including secretaries and bus drivers. From inside a school, the popular mythology (frequently) is that parents and assorted others are illiterate fools and should be treated as such.

    I know people who work with teachers in the position of being trainers of various kinds. Teachers as a group are some of the rowdiest and worst behaved students–and I would even include such things as throwing items during class. Again, the within-school assumption is that no one else knows what the teacher knows, can possibly know it any better, and hence, all others are idiots.

    I think we have strayed far from the topic here, and I apologise. I do applaud the original poster who dared to take action when her student needed her to do so.

  12. We’ve cut the number of fights significantly — as in from once or twice a week to three or four an entire year — using PBIS. But back when I had them outside my door all the time, I used to just grab the girls and move them, too, and I’m exactly half your size, Kevin :). I’m extremely grateful for all the progress our administration has made in clearing the halls and cutting the number of fights. Makes my job so much easier.

    Margo, challenging students turn around all the time. I write about it on my blog (as do other classroom teachers in theirs), but Joanne’s space is not about classroom day-to-day. I don’t know anything about your school, but my schedule does need to be worked around simply because somebody has to be in the room with my students at all times. I was on FIRE yesterday, though — 2 meetings before school, dept meeting during my plan, observers in for two classes, an IEP and staff meeting after school. Whew.

  13. Margo, could you give more specific details? I can’t understand why you would demand that teachers attend a meeting that was totally unrelated to your child. To be good at teaching is very time consuming. An effective teacher will easily work 10 or more hours a day plus weekends. Your post sounds so casually disrespectful of a teacher’s time.

    I usually think of you as a reasonable person. Could you “fill in the blanks” so that I have a better idea of what was happening?

  14. Kevin Smith says:

    It appears Margo has had bad experiences with teachers and believes her experiences are indicative of how all teachers act. Fortunately for the rest of us most teachers don’t act the way she describes, but if this is her experience wiht the teacehrs at her school she needs to complain to the local school board and if that is no help try finding another school for her child.

  15. Margo/Mom says:

    Ray–I was not demanding the meeting. I was attending a meeting of general interest as a parent. In fact, parents are required to be included in school improvement planning–a fact totally ignored by not just this one school, but in schools throughout the district. It took a couple of years of lobbying (above the school level) at two different schools to convince the higher ups that this was a requirement and that the requirement was not being met. As the squeeky wheel, the principal called me when the meeting was scheduled (no other parents were informed). I came. No teachers came. The principal alluded to a communications problem and rescheduled the meeting. I scheduled time off again (no such thing as an evening meeeting). The principal called to say that the meeting was being moved to an earlier time at the teacher’s request.

    When I arrived, not only did the teachers have to be paged to attend when they did not show up, but they came in berating the principal for even requiring them to attend. The principal was not prepared for the meeting–no agenda, had not printed out any of the needed data. So he basically told the teachers that they could go ahead individually to write something up that they would file as their “improvement plan.” I asked about any data regarding progress on the previous year’s plan. No one had ever looked at in throughout the previous year. In essence they thought that the whole thing was just some stupid thing that they had to do and had no intention of acting on the plan. I had some questions about the implementation (or lack thereof) of things that I knew had been in the previous year’s plan. I got blank looks. They thought I was totally crazy that there should be any thought given to the “plan” once it was written and in the drawer, or that one year’s plan might lay the groundwork for the next. After all–I’m just a parent. I couldn’t possibly understand. And this was a good day.

  16. Sorry I jumped to conclusions. Our school improvement plan is little more than an exercise in wishful thinking. Each year the percentage of students scoring proficient on the state states is supposed to increase and miraculously we will end up with 100% of our students proficient in all subjects by 2014. I share your exasperation. I would love having some thoughtful, involved parents asking our administration some tough questions. I apologize for the way the teachers treated you. You sound like someone who could really be an asset for a struggling school if you were given a chance.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ray. So you ask the admin some tough questions. What’s next?
    What’s next is they blow you off.
    End of story.


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