by Julia Buckley
Today I got every teacher's most dreaded task: detention duty. No one wants detention because the job is odious. A former dean decided that the students in after-school detention cannot do homework, nor can they sleep. They are to sit in silence for an hour; the philosophy here is that they must be conscious of their time being wasted in the same way that, most likely, they wasted a teacher's time with their shenanigans.
The problem, of course, is that few young people can endure the torture of silence, and at the very least they want to make eye contact and goof around a little. This is not cool to most detention monitors, including me. I am there out of obligation, and I make it clear to the room's occupants up front that I would like to do my work in silence, and those who want to bend the rules will just end up back in the room again--an endless punishment worthy of Tartarus.
I am grateful to say I only have to do this three times a school year, because the reality is that I'm a terrible sheriff, and I don't know how cops can do their jobs. I'm terrible at maintaining a tough facade, and it shouldn't even be difficult. Because, despite the fact that they're in detention, these are the GOOD kids of the world--they came to school late, or talked while announcements were on, or chewed giant pieces of gum. That's what they generally get detention for.
A friend of mine who teaches in a public school in a rather notorious neighborhood had to break up not one, but two fights at his last detention duty, and one of those fights involved a knife, a wound, blood, the police. I listened to his tale, horrified, remembering my resentment that certain students were making eye contact. My thought at the time was How dare they? :)
Detention is a time-honored punishment, but do not throw stones at me when I tell you that I never received one in school. The reason is simple--I had then (and still have now) far too great a fear of authority. If a teacher threatened to give class members a detention for talking too much, I got quiet. I was not a rebel, nor was I disruptive for the sheer joy of it. I liked order; I still do.
I suppose it's not a surprise, then, that I read and write crime fiction. I like mysteries to be solved, perpetrators to be punished, innocents to be spared. Mysteries are orderly, and the genre is structured so that one never has to walk away without a solution to the problem.
My husband laughs at my fear of authority. I see a police car and I slow down. I have done this for twenty years because of an inexplicable terror of being pulled over (I was once, for a non-working brake light. I nearly died of fear). I have no liquor in my car, no drugs, no contraband. I buckle in and buckle my children in; I stop at stop signs and yellow lights. Yet I see a police car and I feel weirdly guilty. Perhaps it's the Catholic upbringing, but somehow I am always able to feel guilty about something.
I reflected on all of this as I walked into detention today, ready to face a room full of malefactors and some residual hostility. Instead, two angelic looking girls sat there in silence. Most of the student body had gone to a big basketball game.
So the three of us sat, I and my caged cherubs, all of us bound by authority in one way or another.
In a stab at rebellion, I let them leave a couple of minutes early. :)