The bell rings to signal the end of the day, and the students in my last hour class frantically escape their academic chains for the day. I sit at my computer and try to do some work, until my visitor arrives.
And arrive he does, in grand style: the door swings furiously open, and the student furiously takes a seat in the front row of my classroom.
He is not actually my student: he’s a freshman, so I have only interacted with him during my lunch supervision. He is, however, a student of the math teacher I share the supervision with, Mrs. C, and it was for her that he was now in my room.
You see, this student – who we’ll call Jay for the purposes of anonymity – is what might be considered a “problem student” – he has anger issues and often lashes out at both students and faculty. Earlier this week, he had one of his episodes, and Mrs. C and our principal were in his line of fire. Jay has served his fair share of detentions with Mrs. C, and they ultimately haven’t done any good, from what Mrs. C has told me in our confiding about our teaching (Mrs. C is a first-year as well, at least in full-time public school teaching).
So I, ever the problem-solver, suggested to Mrs. C that Jay serve a detention for his disrespectful behavior with me instead of with her, mostly to send the message that the detention wasn’t a vindictive act.
And very promptly after Jay rushed into my classroom, Mrs. C was behind. We both tried to talk to Jay to make sure he understood why he was serving the detention, but he shut down on us and refused to talk. Eventually, Mrs. C left Jay and I to the detention, thinking that the hard exterior that had been hastily erected was not going to be taken down anytime soon.
But when I have a problem that needs my attention, I am persistent (chalk up to years of technical support work prior to teaching). So I did the only thing I could do: I talked. And talked. And talked.
I already know at this point that Jay is a good kid at heart. I’ve seen him during lunch, and we’ve interacted in that environment enough that we’ve butted heads a few times – nothing serious, but enough that he’s had to apologize to me (which he did of his own accord, as far as I can tell). I think I’m a good enough judge of character to make that assessment.
I couldn’t even tell you everything I said. I don’t know how long I talked, either, but after a while, Jay went from his head in his arms on the desk to his head resting on his arms to an upright sitting position and eye contact…and I knew that he was finally listening.
And once we got going, we covered the basics: he knew the way he acted was wrong; he knew what to do when he makes mistakes (“[deep sigh] Apologize…”); he knew that it was sometimes hard to act right but that he needed to try. I told him that if this were a test, it would be the easiest test he’d ever take, but of course life is harder than that.
So we had it, the understanding that he needed to change so that relationships and the overall atmosphere would improve and – this was my own contribution – so that he would simply become a better person. (Gotta love intrinsic motivators!) I also reminded him that our relationship would expand next year into the traditional student-teacher relationship, and I think he understood that I wanted him to have good interactions with all of his teachers. My message seemed to have gotten through to him.
Finally, after I felt that we had said enough together, I told J, “Now, I think we need to walk down to Mrs. C’s room.” There was resistance, but Jay acquiesced and gave what both Mrs. C and I thought was a sincere apology: he looked Mrs. C right in the eye and said that his behavior was disrespectful and that he needed to make a change. We all talked for a few minutes, and after J left, Mrs. C turned to me and said with a somewhat impressed expression, “I don’t know what you said to him, but that’s a good sign.”
And I replied, “I’m not magic; he just needed to hear from someone else.”
Time, of course, will tell if J’s behavior improves, but I’m hopeful. I’m also encouraged by the fact that I was able to take control of the situation and help move it in a positive direction somewhat, even though it may have been in large part due to the fact that he doesn’t have to face me in the classroom tomorrow. It makes me wonder if maybe I need some distance to see what I can do for the students in my own classes – maybe I too need some interventions from outside sources. We’re a learning community, after all, and sometimes other people have more sway than I do with some students.
I guess there is hope for me yet.