In my US history class, projects titled "The Legacy of Vietnam" were due today. The second group of the day did a project on Napalm. They had created a video that was supposed to show the effects of Napalm (which translates to high school boys lighting anything they can find on fire).
All was going fine until the "jar" came out. This student had asked me if they could use this as part of the presentation. My first clue should have been here, when the student's grandfather was hesitant to let him bring this "jar" to school.
"It's mostly acidic, and will clean up with water," said my student.
"Ok, that should be fine," I replied, stupidly. (Chalk it up to my inexperience?)
After the video came the jar: filled with a substance the students created to simulate Napalm. Yes, red flags went up in my mind. When the lid came off and the styrofoam came out, I still hesitated to stop them. As the boys started shoving the styrofoam in the jar (which immediately dissolved), I was still more anxious.
Suddenly, that last piece of styrofoam went in a little too quickly, and SPLASH! went the "napalm" all over the table. The room filled with a familiar odor.
"What is really in that?" I asked.
"Mostly acetone, sawdust...and gasoline."
This was the point in which I really started to freak out. GASOLINE!! ARE YOU KIDDING? And the odor was getting stronger! "Clean this up, now!" I started getting nervous about the whole thing.
I walked across the hallway to look for my supervising teacher, who wasn't around at the moment. I walked back into the room and the smell hit me hard!
I opened the window to the room, and told my students to step into the hallway. I know that if they had stayed in their much longer students were going to be getting really sick. I started making phone calls, tracking down my supervising teacher, the student center, and the custodian.
I sent my students to the library, because I realized the room was not safe. The smell started to linger into the hallway.
The custodian was able to focus extra air through the vents into the room, thus diluting the air quickly. I took my students from the library down to another classroom to finish the presentations. By the end of the period, the smell was gone, and only my fears and stressfulness remained.
At one point during the whole mess of getting students out of the classroom and to the library, one student approached me with the need to talk to me. I told her it wasn't a really good time (as I was freaking out in my head, but trying to stay calm), and she said, "but it's about what just happened." She proceeded to tell me that what had just happened was illegal, and was obviously very upset by the whole situation. Immediately I knew she would probably be going home and telling her father about the incident. (The same father who believes that the attack of 9/11 wasn't the work of terrorists, but was planned by George Bush who needed a way to begin a war in Iraq.)
After talking to my supervisors about the whole thing, I feel a lot better, though I am still afraid that I will show up to school on Monday with a list of parents who've called and complained that I allowed gasoline in the classroom. Fortunately my teacher talked to the right people to cover all the bases.
My supervising teacher made me feel a lot better when he told me about how during his first year of teaching he had an assignment/project due during which in one class period he had to evacuate the room due to an aeresol spray gloss (because everyone was sneezing and coughing), another student had to get stitches, and something else happened that I can't remember (something to do with the fire alarm?)
As he pointed out, this was one of those few moments of high school that many of my students will remember for a very long time. Well, at least my class will be memorable for something.