I walk down the halls of one of the middle schools in which I am teaching in Vaulx-en-Velin and it is like a Disneyfied war zone. Kids smilingly kicking the crap out of each other, bashing one another with schoolbooks and pencil cases and all varieties of arm-twisting, shouting, smacking and the like.
And what am I to do? Here I am, an American, a foreigner, with basic French language skills (at best), with no real authority.
If they talk back to their teachers and even the principal, why would they care at all about me, unless I took the unwise step of actually physically intimidating them. Today, the door to ‘my’ classroom had chalk scribbled all over it. And by one of the ‘good’ girls, even. Obviously they are learning to see me as an Edward James Olmos/Robin Williams type.
In any case, the violence really is an issue, as there is a question of how much I should be intervening. Usually, I just walk past.
Today was the first time I actually stepped in. A boy that was about twice as big as this skinny girl was twisting her arm behind her back. She was somewhat laughing, but it was hard to tell if it was just to put on a brave act. I was going to keep walking, but our eye contact locked.
I walked toward the two of them and the boy didn’t let go. I said stop. Nothing. I gently put my hand on his arm and gave it a little push. He let go and she began to run a bit, while still playfully swatting at the boy with her pencil case.
It’s a laugh a minute over here, that’s for sure.