Friday, October 19, 2007

defeats and victories

God, they just break my heart. Over and over and over.

I had another meltdown today and had to take a good hour to get back to teaching form. I've been trying my hardest to be calm and collected about all the drama and backstabbing that seems to lurk around Blackbird but this week was the kicker. I can't let her dominate my attention or my class and I also can't ignore the fact that something is seriously fucked up in this girl's life. Yesterday she got so wound up and so upset and angry that I had to escort her out of class. We walked down to the office, with plenty of pouting and screaming on her part, and I called her mother. She was upset because I gave her a detention for breaking class rules three times (three strikes, you get detention). Then the bickering with the other students started. So she had to go, for her own sake and the sake of the rest of the class. She has the emotional stability of a three year old, I swear. I called her mother because it was out of hand, because I will not tolerate being screamed at and disrespected continuously.

But today it started to happen again. She was fine and then something set her off. Usually it starts when I tell her no too many times for her liking or if she isn't getting enough attention. She'll start picking fights or getting in people's business and they get annoyed and then it is all downhill from there. So I, keeping calm, said that I would like her to take her activity (today was a Game/Activity day) and asked the seventh grade teacher if he would mind if she sat in his classroom until she felt better and had calmed down. She refused to leave my room, made a scene in front of everybody, and continued to argue and yell. I tried to talk her down but no use. She wouldn't go to the other classroom to calm down. So I told her that if she continued to disobey I would walk her down to the office, that the disruption was out of hand and I would not allow a student to speak to me that way.

It was a struggle to get her down the hallway. She sat herself down and tantrumed and talked back and I was good, I was keeping my cool. But she kept saying that her mama was going to say horrible things to her, beat her, hate her, etc. And it was my fault, she wasn't upset, I was getting her into trouble. Mrs. P was coming up the way just in time because I lost it. Blackbird stabbed and stabbed and stabbed until I just couldn't handle anymore. So I walked away.

It is so fucking hard to stand there and try and try and try to help a child and they treat you like shit. Because something is wrong and you can't unbreak it. I had a good cry in the principal's office and I had more of a cry in the counselor's office. Took a walk around the block, hung out under the tree with Mr. R and Mr. D, got my act together. It is a relief to know that my admins are understanding about moments like that. When I told the school secretary that I needed to take a walk, she just squeezed my hands and told me to go on and take my walk. When I came back, the principal had bought a bunch of the teachers lunch - yummy fish and dirty rice and potato salad and peas and mac'n'cheez and a brownie - and that was really what I needed.

But today also had it's ups. One of the girls in my last class of the day asked me if she could have her birthday party in my room. So before lunch, I had the class make the room spotless and told them that they had to be my behavior examples today for this party. In the line for lunch, while I was on duty, I had five or six of my boys in the front of the line (my class is always first and I told them I knew that they could show up the older kids) who were waiting patiently to be let into the cafeteria. Then I had a gang of seventh and eighth grade boys who thought they could just sneak in at the back of the girls' line and get in sooner, being rowdy little punkasses. I snapped. My voice hit just the right pitch and I must have had just the right expression, because when I told them that they would NOT be cutting in front of my sixth graders who had been waiting and doing what they were supposed to do every single one of those boys got their ass to the back of the line. Ms. V (one of our paras) and my sixth graders all applauded.

It was the awesome.


E.J. said...

Well done -- the caring, the crying -- but "handlin' bitness" with the lunch line was especially well done. LOL

I've noticed that since I go out of my way to stay calm and matter-of-fact and even-tempered, that when I "lose it," the kids really take notice and respond appropriately.

The long, long road home,New Orleans said...

Sound like you have to be strict and stern. Set definite lines and if they cross them follow thru on the consequences.

Seems like the kids know they can test you.

I've noticed if kids see you falter just a little bit they will eat you alive.

I'm so stern I've had kids mooooo at me behind my back. I really am flattered. It means they know they can't get away with anything

Leigh C. said...

Tracy Kidder's "Among Schoolchildren" documents a similar thing in a grade-school classroom, when a young boy's behavior really has a tendency to take over a class and draw a teacher's attention from other students. The whole dynamic changes when that student is not there. And it can take a while to have some changes made (i.e., transfers). This girl seems to have it especially hard and has no place else to make herself heard except for school. Rock and a hard place.

I had a kid in my first year of working summer camp who had the capacity to take over things like that. It was a relief when his parents voluntarily pulled him out when he was one disciplinary step from being booted out, as we sat down with his dad and told him that his son needed a shadow to handle his behavior and that the camp was simply not equipped to provide that. I don't know if the school can bring her mother in to really talk about this...sounds like they're having a hard time with her mom as it is.

Which means - keep your temper as much as you can, hang on to those small victories and good things, and lean on those good coworkers and superiors you have. In that last bit, you are one lucky stiff.