Well, ok, it was really only half a day. I haven't been inside schools and classrooms nearly enough the past couple years, so when an acquaintance offered to bring me to their semi-dysfunctional urban high school, I jumped (ok, dragged myself out of bed) at the chance. Here are some things I noticed:
The day started with the chair of the department circulating the school to find volunteers. An e-mail had just been sent out notifying them that 2 teachers from each school must attend a district-wide PD session on Monday.
First period was spent signing in late kids. They all calmly walked over, got their detention slip, and moved on. Some grunted when spoken to; most just ignored the adult that was trying to speak to them. Those that had a note from a parent or were seen getting out of a car were excused from detention. A steady stream of students poured in all period, virtually none of whom seemed to give a damn about detention.
About a third of the students in the first class failed to bring a pencil and about half made no attempt at doing any work. Students were hostile and rude when approached, but were also surprisingly calm. The parade of uninterested and unprepared zombie-kids continued for most of the morning.
The final period I witnessed had some kids who were a bit more lively. One student walked in and sat down without his book or folder. The teacher asked him nicely to get his book. He let loose with a stream of profanities and marched into the hallway. He did not come back. 15 minutes into the period a security guard guided a girl into the room. She proceeded to sit down and scream profanities at other students, who returned the favor. The teacher asked her to get a book. She marched angrily into the hall. Five minutes later she returned. This time the teacher has a book and folder out and ready for her and attempts to keep her away from the other volatile students in the class. More screaming ensued. I baby-sat her for the rest of period.
It reminded me a lot of my school, except that the kids were much calmer. But most refused to engage in any sort of meaningful discourse with an adult, and clearly resented it when an adult tried to strike up a conversation with them (yet alone ask them to do something). The kids walking in the door, walking through the hallway, and walking into the classroom all seemed to share the same expression; a mixture of indifference and hostility. They didn't care and didn't want to be bothered. I witnessed an experienced, intelligent, engaging teacher go out of their way to do whatever they could for the kids. Some responded. Most were uninterested in responding (again, unless asked directly to do something -- then they were no longer so calm). The classroom I was in, and others, were not spiraling out of control as kids went wild (as they did at my school) but were, instead, filled with students who fairly calmly refused to engage or try. Most classes were down from about 35 at the start of the year to 20 or even fewer now (which was probably part of the reason everybody was so calm) as a result of the high drop-out rate. I ate in a student-run cafeteria -- one of the few times I saw students willingly engage in their surroundings. It was a good refresher course in the real world -- we tend to overlook a lot of these things up in the ivory tower.