I learned soon enough. Students who started out throwing spitballs at each other would progress to throwing spitballs at the teacher, escalating from there. That first day, a boy also asked for permission to go to the bathroom, which I granted. That day, I had a long, long line - perhaps half the class - having to go.
That night, I reflected hard on what I was learning. And once I understood the psychology of my students, I used it to my benefit.
Students excelling in written class assignments got their names posted on the daily blackboard honor roll. And only honorees could go to the bathroom during class time.
The honorees lorded it over their unprivileged peers, dancing out the door, smirking at the others. And the unprivileged, wanting to also get the reward, dramatically improved their assignments, young Shakespeares in the making.
But what if I had had a gun amid a culture so different from mine? Without a gun, the biggest harm from misunderstandings was to my pride and perhaps to theirs - but no one was in danger. We had an open, safe space in which to learn about each other. But with a gun?
I would never have entered the classroom had I been required to have a gun. Nor would I have trusted a poorly paid school guard to understand and provide for my safety, or that of my students. Not when a harmless looking green shirt might be a sign of gang affiliation. Or when a seemingly harmless graffiti might really mark territory. Or when an assignment might not translate between cultures - like the ones I gave asking students to write about their lives and feelings. One father thought that I, the white authority figure, was using assignments to spy on his son and family.
In time, I could understand - and deal with - these differences, unarmed. But pointing a gun, or having one pointed at me, would have collapsed the time to learn this, with negative results.
Since then, the situation has only grown worse. Last year in Chicago, 319 students were shot in the public schools, 24 of them fatally, according to David Cole, a professor of criminal law at Georgetown University Law Center. In Philadelphia, where I taught, 80% of the 324 people murdered either in or out of school were killed by guns.
So, is a pointed gun a real threat or a bluff? And how could I be sure, when I had gotten so much else wrong? Equally importantly, would I have been willing to risk my life in a classroom to find out?
If other teachers and school administrators react similarly to the way I did, Wayne ("Call me crazy") LaPierre's proposal for a gun in every school, perhaps even in every classroom, would lead to fewer teachers working increasingly crowded and less safe classrooms. It would also lead to an increased number of lethal misunderstandings amid a less educated nation, whose paramount value would transform to the ability to handle a gun - for good or ill. It would lead to a country reeling backwards not just from bullets, but from crippled learning amid constant threats.
Two questions. If this is not crazy, what is? And has the NRA's publicly stated craziness on all things gun finally, post-Newton, marked the start of its decline?
By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist