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20 IT NEVER STOPS AROUND HERE.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

Michael Robinson let out a sigh and stared at the smart-aleck freshman standing before him. It was only 8:15 AM, but Robinson already knew this was going to be one of those days that seem to last forever. A special education teacher for more than a decade, he had recently been assigned to work in the discipline dean’s office as a backup to Terry Hoover. The office workload—the suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and preemptive strikes—had gotten to be too big for just one person. Robinson had long sought an opportunity to move into administration. On this day, he wondered why that had ever been a goal. In the first forty-five minutes of the school day, he’d already dealt with a handful of class-skipping students and a potential fight between two girls. And now he had to deal with the smart-aleck freshman, a boy named Rrien who had enrolled in Manual at the start of February and in the two weeks since had missed his fourth-period class nearly every day. He stood in Robinson’s office wearing a pair of tattered khakis, a red shirt, and a smirk.

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7 WE’RE NOT GOING TO BE AVERAGE HERE.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

The thirty-one-year-old father of a Manual freshman walked into Dean Hoover’s office one morning. He moved fast and angrily and wore camouflage pants, a tan workman’s jacket, and a black cap. He came into the office without an appointment and spoke before being spoken to. “I want to talk to security,” he announced, interrupting a conversation I was having with Hoover and yanking off the cap to show a blond buzzed haircut and an earring in his left ear.

Hoover immediately recognized the man from previous visits and calmly asked him to sit down. He declined, pacing the room instead for a few seconds as he told Hoover that a boy at the school was harassing his daughter and that he was a few inches from handling the situation on his own, even if that meant throttling the boy. He said the boy, his daughter’s ex-boyfriend, was stalking her. The bullshit had been going on for a year, he shouted, but lately the situation had gotten worse.

Hoover looked up the girl’s class schedule on her computer as the man continued to talk, repeating his threat to take matters into his own hands. At one point Hoover hushed him as she held the phone to her ear and dialed the daughter’s third-period classroom, asking the teacher to send her down. Then she called Sergeant Barrow, aware that he might be the only one able to calm the man standing in front of her. As she hung up the phone, the father finally sat down. He began rubbing his face and looked just as flustered as he did when he walked in. “He’s been stalking my daughter for a year,” he said. “And now he’s hanging out with the guy who raped her last year. I don’t know what sick thing that’s about.”

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4 WE DO A GOOD JOB WITH THE KIDS WHO SHOW UP.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

At Manual many of the students don’t show up often enough to get left behind. I’d been at the school for less than a week but had already discovered that its most vexing problem was also the most fundamental: there was a basic inability to get students to walk through the front doors. Teachers repeatedly told me about leading classes that were missing half of their students. They complained about students who showed up once or twice a week, or students who walked out of or into a class midway through a lesson. Then they told me about the many students who simply never made it to school. Not for a month. Not for a week. Not for a day. And not for a single class. It happened every year, they said. It got worse as the school year went on, with many students—freshmen and sophomores in particular—disappearing. The missing kids were faded memories, their empty desks symbols of another generation of dropouts who would be forced to find a way in the world without even the most basic education.

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12 I GET HIT ALL THE TIME.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

Dean Hoover was having one of those days. A day when her office was a nonstop burst of activity, filled with troublemaking students, perplexed parents, and enough drama to fill a few soap opera scripts. Shortly after nine o’clock, after Hoover dealt with a handful of other brush fires, a fifteen-year-old boy named Darnell walked into the room with his father, Bryan. Darnell, who had a smooth demeanor and a mild learning disability, was a frequent visitor to the office, and as soon as they entered he fell into a seat and leaned his head against the wall behind him. “Sit up straight,” his dad ordered.

The meeting had been scheduled so that Hoover and Jackie Sababu, the head of the school’s special education department, could talk about the trouble Darnell was causing. He received help from teachers assigned to students with learning disabilities but attended regular classes. And he was disrupting them constantly of late. Sababu said Darnell’s was a tricky case. He had a sweet and innocent way about him that masked much of the trouble he caused. He was friendly and apologetic, she said, a trait that had bought him a lot of leeway earlier in the year. Not anymore. He’d pushed things too far. His teachers were fed up. Darnell stared at the ceiling as she talked. “Look at her,” his dad said. “We’re going to have a long talk when you get home. He’s already on punishment until December.”

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16 IT FEELS LIKE I’M A SOMEBODY.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

The choir was roaring by early December. From the start of each class until the end, it was a wall of music. The students were filled with more confidence than ever before, and they spent each class eager to impress Spencer Lloyd, who had spent so many classes working with them and so much time after class talking them through their problems. They noticed things about him that were different, such as when he frantically labored through classes one week while suffering from a nasty cold, or when he let a student who wasn’t in his class paint a huge mural on the back wall of the class, or when he told them he loved them.

The holiday concert was approaching, and Lloyd had built an ambitious set list with the help of Michael Weber, the young band teacher with whom he’d spent many hours talking about the big things they wanted to accomplish. They had a dream of turning Manual into a school known for its top-notch music program. They thought a decent turnout at the holiday concert could help lead them in that direction. They had seen the demise of the football program and wanted to show the school district that their programs were on the way up. They believed that students desperately needed to feel pride in their school and that such a feeling would make them more likely and eager to come to school and succeed. The Manual music program could provide that inspiration, they insisted.

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