Someone on Facebook asked me about a lesson I learned outside the classroom, and it reminded me of this story. I wrote it for the first time when I was taking some ridiculous 6-hour licensing exam called the NTE, as best I recall. They asked for the same thing.
It was around 1985, and I was teaching English at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. I was just coming in one day. It was my second year teaching. JFT is a big building, and I think it had escalators. I came up one and saw a terrible fight between two girls. I saw what looked like bloody tufts of hair on the floor. One girl was on top of the other, and it looked to me like one of them was going to die.
A small crowd had gathered, and was watching. No one was doing anything to stop the fight. I tried to pull the girl on top off the one on the bottom, and it didn't work well. When I picked up the top girl, the bottom one came right up with her. And they were still fighting. There was a really big guy across from me, a student I suppose, and he looked to me like Mike Tyson. We kind of looked at each other, and he came over to separate the girls.
I was feeling pretty confident this drama was coming to a close, but the girl I was holding was full of surprises. While I was holding her and she was pummeling her hapless victim, Mike Tyson ambled over and she kicked him right on his ass. Within moments, security arrived. I was shocked but not hurt. I never found out what happened to anyone else.
But later that day, I got called into the principal's office. This, in my view, was not a good thing. For one thing, the principal was always introducing himself to me and telling me how he loved to meet the new teachers. Fortunately, he never, ever remembered who I was. I was fearful our relationship would take a new turn, and he'd start remembering me. That didn't happen, but here's what did.
He looked at me very seriously. He asked me if I had tried to break up a fight. I copped to it. He said that it was not my job to break up fights. He told me that if I had gotten hurt my health insurance would not have covered me. I wasn't much of a hero to begin with, but I never broke up a fight after that. And that's what I learned outside of the classroom.
And the picture? That, evidently, is how I appear to my students today.