In Learning on the River, a first-year English teacher in Mississippi takes a sick day and comes back to discover his ninth-grade students have ripped down the Christmas decorations, thrown books on the floor, knocked desks around and stolen things from his desk. He takes down all the students’ work and their photos and writes them a letter.
I wanted our classroom to be a place where you would feel at home. That’s why I spent my time and money to decorate for the holidays. That’s why I spent my time and money to take and post pictures of you everywhere. That’s why I spent my time hanging your work in the hallways, on our walls, and our ceiling. That’s why I spent my money on gifts for Mr. Henley’s Favorite Things. All of my energy and money was spent to make you feel welcome and appreciated. You all work so hard in this class and I wanted to reward you.
. . . Among others, you have lost the privilege to leave my room. You have lost the privilege of work sheets. You will be copying everything by hand since I buy all the paper you receive in our room. These privileges will be returned as soon as you can show me you deserve them again.
Only a few students trashed the room, but others sat back and let it happen, he writes.