Today, I yelled at the top of my voice. In Advisory class. That place where we really know and care for students, individualise things, feel like a family. Place of relationships, understanding, respect.
I lost it after an obnoxious period with *Steve in the main role. Swearing, shouting, disrupting, not even attempting to do anything remotely associated with what they are supposed to do, or at least not disrupt others. He was accompanied by *Peter and *Ben. Never their fault, always blame other, never take responsibility … teflon – nothing sticks! I give these boys extra time and space in our class. I know they are friends and that’s fantastic. They talk – so what, we are social beings and they are a bunch of hormonally raging boys. I often ‘shield’ these boys before, during and after they get in trouble at school – not a shield to escape consequences, but a shield to give them a voice, hear their side of the story and then judge. I make them food when they are hungry, talk to them when upset, lose my precious free period and instead of preparing for next class or eating my food, I spend it with them. I text and text and talk and remind and email and cajole and check and thank and consult with their parents to what often amounts to a couple of hours or more a week. A simple form may need five or six texts and to and fros to be signed. I do it because I chose to, I do it because that is how things are done at our school.
At the end of last period today, these guys simply walked out after asking them to pick up a bit of rubbish they left behind and which I asked them several times (like pretty much MOST of the requests I make with them). Walked out with a glint in their eyes, hearing me well, asking them to return and pick up the rubbish. Nicely the first five or six times until there and then … I lost it. If you ever heard me yell at the top of my voice you’d see all of 6ft6in and 105kg ex water polo goalkeeper with a booming voice. Something broke in me. I damaged myself and I possibly damaged how these kids and others who were around see me. But it was the last straw of a tired teacher, with, I acknowledge, tired kids. It was the reptilian brain talking.
I enjoy being around, working with teenagers. I love my job, no matter how hard it can be. But if you really want to annoy me – just be selfish. Just do all the taking but none or little of the giving. And that is how I felt today about these boys. It’s all pretty much give on my side and take on their side. To add to the selfish streak, they often brag about being mean to their teacher last year, how they “made her quit” and took fun of her when she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Teenage bravado you say (and yes, some of it of course) but sometimes there is a real mean, anti-social streak to all this. They are not cheeky – they are nasty. Sometimes, not all the times.
I am sure I am not always fun to be around. I am sure I am annoying, boring, unfair, stupid sometimes. But you can’t accuse me of being selfish or lazy or not caring about these guys. I can’t accuse them of being all these bad things all the time either. They are kids (!) and I have many times laughed at and with them at their remarks, silly banter or witty one liners. I enjoy their company (no, I really do). But they are also intelligent enough to recognise they have gone too far with the person that does a thing or two for them.
At the same time I think – are they to blame entirely? What have we done (and ‘we’ I mean parents, schools, teachers, myself, society…) done for them to be like this? It reminds me of the well-known John Taylor Gatto’s award acknowledgement speech where he explains why he not surprised for children in his care to be this way.
NOT all children I teach are like this. There are NO perfect children either (and no such teachers or parents for that matter). But there are boundaries, as cultural, contextual and malleable as they may be.
I look forward to a cool-headed conversation with these boys and mending of what was broken. Every good relationship has those moments too.
Today – I lost it. Tomorrow – I will be back.
PS Please don’t talk to me about “classroom management” strategies. Step into my shoes before you do.
PPS No, I won’t be back tomorrow. I am taking a day off. Full time work, full time study, the workshop project, reports and trying to be a Dad and husband have taken their toll. But I’ll be back, with a smile, after that.