When we step away from the big, unknowable, terrifying forest of our day, fearing to tread into another emotional imbroglio, collegial drama, or poisonous-tipped toxic gossip, sometimes the right words come at the right time. At this time of the year especially: the testing season is about to begin, teachers are fatigued, repetitive and micro-managed meetings begin to dispirit versus inspire, it’s time to take a close look at the relationships we have and carry with our students and colleagues, and most importantly ourselves. How do we begin anew and maintain the positive energy and hope we and our students desperately seek?
The Unreachable Student:
He’s not mad at me.
I honestly could not begin to list the multiple, highly disrespectful acts this learner has directed towards me in the few months we’ve known each other. He’s insulted the way I look, the way I dress, and even my family who’s pictures are on my desk. He’s screamed obscenities, called me names, and constantly walked away as I was trying to talk to him. In my early years, these actions would have absolutely crushed me. I would have either reacted by kicking him out of my class or breaking down in tears. I would have asked myself, “What did I do to deserve this?”
But I know that none of these outbursts are truly directed towards me. I simply represent every adult that has ever failed him in the past. His frustrations are simply a manifestation of everything he cannot control. The hand that he’s been so unfairly dealt brings with it a level of stress and frustration that, again, I cannot relate to. The need for confrontation has little to nothing to do with his opinion of me, but instead is a biological necessity to relieve the pressure that’s been building within the depths of his soul. As an adult who holds him to a certain level of standards, I place myself directly in the line of fire to this barrage every single day.
So, I’ve learned to forgive and forget. Depending on the severity of the outburst, whether it’s directed towards me or another student, or whether it places anyone’s safety in jeopardy, I’ve responded accordingly with required disciplinary measures. But, when I see him again, I treat him as if the incident didn’t happen. I make sure he understands that his past will never define him in my eyes- even the very recent past.
Most of our students have emotional trauma of one sort or another: it’s not to be dismissed, but nor is it to become fetishized.
Tapping into empathy is difficult, and takes profound emotional effort, and it can’t be a one-way relational direction. That may sound obvious, but consider the oxygen mask idea – in order to save others, you must first save yourself.
Understanding how our brains work may be the first order of business for an adolescent brain.
Odd? Or ODD?
The student who seems intent on the power struggle may have ODD or Oppositional Defiance Disorder. I am not a licensed mental health care provider, but we encounter many students suffering from trauma and other mental health care needs.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder, otherwise known as ODD, is a condition in which children regularly demonstrate anger, opposition, and defiance, especially toward those in authority.
These four tips will help any teacher, rookie or veteran, stay calm when encountering a child with ODD. Some students who’ve displayed this have had severe abuse/trauma events, and are doing everything they can to maintain control of their surroundings.
Be mindful with tip #2 about choices: choices can sometimes overwhelm, and when providing choice give agency and direction, but not overstimulate.
I feel you.
Though our staff has shared some of these, this one inspired me to think of a project:
Idea: Have students use selfies, etc. and black out the background: have another background of their feelings, etc. or an I Am poem.
Thanks to @shfarnsworth for these ideas!
Between our intent, our hearts, and our minds I am feeling rejuvenated with these amazing resources. When all else fails, I take off my ‘teacher’ mindset and just meditate and remember what it’s like to be in 8th grade. It can suck. Cringe-worthy awkward moments, others telling you to think about the world outside your own perspective, and fighting cognitive dissonance between what we know we need and want to do, and finding more emotional obstacles than climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen tanks: it’s tougher on them than it is on me. I don’t want to make it worse.