Having a gun pulled on you in a classroom
I had been teaching in Los Angeles for a week. I started the first lesson of the day in the usual way – with a roll-call. I had to read the names very carefully because I lot of them were Mexican names and I had a lot of trouble getting my English tongue around the pronunciation and I did not wish to cause offence. There was one girl whose name I always said wrongly and she always pulled me up on it, which was fair enough. It was a matter of respect to get a name correct. I sat down with her one day and really tried to pronounce it right. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t. She said her name slowly and I repeated it but I could neither hear the difference or repeat it. I never learned to get it right throughout the whole year and we got into a ritual. I’d call her name out wrongly and she’d correct it. So I was very focused on my class list.
‘Heey Goodwin,’ this girl called out. I was quite used to this type of casual greeting. Every morning one of my students would skateboard past my desk with his cap on backwards and a surfboard under his arm, and murmur, ‘Heeey, Goodwin, man’. I interpreted this as ‘Good morning, sir.’ So I did not find it very surprising.
I looked up to find a girl standing in the aisle, legs spread, crouched, with a two hands holding a gun that was pointed straight between my eyes.
It is amazing how fast your mind works in such situations. So many thoughts run through your mind.
I surmised that I had only been here a week. I couldn’t possibly have annoyed anyone enough to want to shoot me. She wanted to scare the shit out of me. It was ‘make the Englishman dive behind the desk and make a fool of himself’ time.
You know how usually you can’t think of what to say? Fortunately that did not happen.
‘Put that away,’ I said firmly, ‘and sit down.’
I went back to calling out names, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the register.
At the end I looked up to find the girl had sat down and the gun had disappeared.
I started the lesson.
After I had everyone working I sauntered up to the girl and leaned towards her. She was assiduously working hard and ignoring me.
‘That was extremely silly,’ I began.
‘It wasn’t loaded,’ she replied without looking up.
‘I was not to know that,’ I replied in the same low-key manner. ‘I might have had a gun in my drawer and blown you away.’
She laughed and clearly found that genuinely amusing.
‘If I had pressed the button,’ I said, referring to the panic button on my desk, ‘you would be in a police cell now and out of this school.’
I knew the whole class was listening in. They wanted to know what the new English teacher was going to do.
She stopped laughing. She knew it was true.
‘Don’t ever do anything as stupid again,’ I said sternly, moving on.
I think it actually made my year. The whole school knew how serious it might have been but I had defused it. I hadn’t dived for cover and I hadn’t followed the rule book. The respect level went up.
Teaching is never easy. It’s not a science; it’s an art. You have to follow your heart.
Sometimes you get it wrong. She might have been mentally deranged and put a bullet through my head! How was I to know?