According to the U.S. Department of Eduation, four percent of public school teachers were physically attacked while another seven percent were threatened with acts of violence in the 2007-08 school year.
Finally, you are qualified to be a high school teacher. It is your first day in a new school and you are not only nervous, you’re eager. The morning flies by as you delve into what you are most passionate to be teaching and suddenly, it’s the fourth period. In the middle of your lesson, an aggravated shout from the hallway attracts everyone’s attention to the scene outside the door. Two students, both boys, are throwing punches as students surround them to get a better look. You rush over immediately and grab the boy closest to you. In your struggle to restrain him, his opponent winds up and lands a punch squarely on your jaw. Your grip loosens, your eyes flutter shut as the world around you dims and the shocked gasps of students is the last thing you hear before passing out.
After being raised in a small community north of Lansing, Lowrie was shocked not only by the population of Loy Norrix, but by the lack of respect as well. Although he cannot recall his first few days teaching at Norrix, Lowrie admitted he would never forget the number of teachers that have left. In the sixteen years Lowrie has taught at Norrix, he has been threatened more than once, the worst being a time he was injured.
At the time, Lowrie worked in classroom C-19. The school had sign language interpreters throughout the building for deaf students who attended Loy Norrix. One of the interpreters was working in his room. After the bell, Lowrie and the interpreter were chatting as he walked with her to her next class. There was a fight inside the room, and thinking about her safety, Lowrie pushed her back into the hallway. He then went to break up the fight. The fight was between a smaller girl and a much larger girl. Lowrie proceeded to grab the smaller girl and hold her arms. With him holding her arms near her face, the student took the opportunity to bite Lowrie on the hand/wrist area.
She looked right at Lowrie and said, “If you don’t let me go, I’m going to bite you again.”
“Life can be in danger anywhere,” Lowrie merely said, when asked what keeps him coming back with the possibility that he could get hurt. He then rephrased the question and said what keeps him coming back to LN is the people he works with.
Someone with a similar view on life is Rob Pincus, team teacher for Loy Norrix. Pincus joined law enforcement in 1971, a situation where he faced possible life-altering situations everyday. Coming into Norrix, Pincus was unsure of what to expect. His first day was chaotic. Norrix had a power outage and the students were ushered into the football field as they awaited buses. Things progressed from there.
As a teacher dealing with possibly violent adolescents, Pincus, of course, has been threatened. He has also been injured. Pincus got involved in trying to break up a fight. Both students turned on him and one ended up hitting Pincus from behind, knocking him to the ground.
“The legend is that I was put to sleep, or knocked out, so to speak,” Pincus said.
Pincus said he had a previous neck injury resulting in a cervical fusion, meaning resulting in a titanium plate connecting five of his vertebrae. When he hit the ground, his concern was that he did not do any further damage to that area. Pincus, not wanting to move, waited until he was certain he still had feeling in his fingers and legs. He was taken to the ER to be checked out. Pincus’ view on staying at LN is that he does not feel as though he is putting himself in danger, but removing others from it.
“I don’t consider my life being in danger,” said Pincus.
Anne Lewis, formally Anne Bowser, is a well-respected English teacher who has worked at Norrix for seventeen years. She expected, as a Loy Norrix graduate, to love working here as a teacher, and she does. Lewis’ best moments are watching her students accomplish anything. Being filled with pride and joy of being able to send out another person into the world who has been educated is all Lewis can ask for. That feeling unfortunately does not come with every student. She considers those moments where students give up on themselves to be the worst.
“Those are just heart-breaking moments,” Lewis said.
Lewis has been threatened multiple times, not always in the most usual ways, such as plain verbal threats. Rather, Lewis has gotten a few death threats, has been cyber bullied, and has even been threatened great bodily harm by students she does not know. There was once when she was threatened with a large snake that a student snuck into the school. But, she has had worse.
Trying to break up a fight between two boys, one larger and one smaller, Lewis felt that since she knew the students, it would be easier. The two boys rode the same bus and when the smaller boy would get off, he would throw a terrible remark the bigger boy’s way. It was the same, repetitive statement every day until the bigger student snapped outside of Lewis’ room. She left the room and put the smaller student into a “bear hug” while a colleague took the larger boy. The larger student managed to pull away from the other teachers’ grip, wound his arm and delivered a punch only to hit Lewis, who turned into it.
“I just sort of crumpled to the ground,” Lewis said.
She remembers being patted on the face and having her name called. Against her wishes, she was sent to the ER. Lewis just wanted to go back to her kids and reassure them she was okay. The principal at the time had her go the ER and asked if she wanted to press charges.
When asked why she continues to come back to Norrix when she could be in danger, Lewis laughed and said, “Well, you gotta die of something.”
With a voice full of passion, Lewis admits that teaching is her life and she loves it. She is never bored. She loves connecting with the students and clearly enjoys her job.
With never-ending enthusiasm and an ongoing love for Norrix, Sveri Stromsta-May team teaches and leads several school-related programs that many students participate in. May spent her sophomore and senior years at Norrix as a student, helped as a substitute teacher and eventually became a teacher. Her love for the school, as well as its students and staff, shows continuously. But it is not always returned in the way she would hope.
May was choked by a student. Her son, who was a student in her classroom at the time, along with a couple of other students came to her rescue, pulling this student off of her. That is not the only thing she has gone through. She has been elbowed in the face during a student fight and has had her fingers stepped on. As a result, May had to go through therapy in order to get her fingers working normally again.
She points at my writing hand and the pencil in it and said, “See how you can tighten your finger there? Mine doesn’t do that anymore.”
No matter the case, it is the love she has that keeps May coming back to this school. It is the student body itself but also the students that need guidance.
Despite everything that these teachers have witnessed, or experienced, it seems to be the connection to their students and to this school that keeps them going. Despite being threatened repeatedly or harmed, they pull through it and brush off the dirt with their heads held high.