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"Damn! What's Your Problem?" | Defiant Kid vs. Substitute Teacher
Sometimes a "bad" day turns out to be a good experience.
In a particularly challenging fifth grade class with six or seven chronic discipline problems, I had fought the good fight most of the morning.
With great effort I had managed to keep a semblance of order by dividing and conquering, using incentives and reminding the class that my evaluation of overall class behavior was not favorable.
Nothing was working wonderfully well, though we managed a faint aura of normal classroom operation for sometimes ten to fifteen minutes at a stretch -- before another distraction or interruption.
I had already known what I was in for when I accepted this one day substitute assignment. I personally knew the teacher, who was excellent and a veteran of many wonderful classes.
She had been struggling with this group from day one. I certainly did not expect to do better than she could, but my theory is that I can survive anything for one day.
Two perpetrators had already been banished from the room and sent to work independently in first grade classes that morning.
When we resumed the contest after lunch, it was time for students to take turns giving oral reports in front of the class. Everyone was supposed to be listening, politely.
As one student began giving a report, another student (I'll call him "Duane") began reading his textbook aloud, feigning a concentrated study mode.
Though Duane should not have been reading at all, I went to him quietly and requested the minimum from him: that he not read aloud while somebody was giving a report.
"DAMN! WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM," he shot at me with an indignant look. There were a few stifled titters of laughter breaking through a general stunned silence as the class waited for me to react.
Now I must explain that I have a very long fuse. I typically under-react to things that agitate normal people, I am almost always very deliberate and calm, even after surviving a fairly stressful morning.
But I will have to confess that, at the moment of his rude remark, I recognized an unfamiliar feeling of anger rising up inside. Thankfully, I kept my primal rage contained as I took out a referral form and informed him with a steady voice that I was not the one with the problem.
I gave Duane the choice of taking his work to the next room, or having someone come in to remove him. He went.
A discipline notice, informing the principal and family of his disrespectful, insubordinate and inappropriate behavior was issued, quoting his exact words. I did what I was supposed to do and considered my day a "success" under the circumstances.
Later in the week, I had a chance to talk (and sympathize) with the regular teacher of this "monster" class. Naturally, the subject of Duane came up.
- Don't let little problems get out of hand.
"Don't talk ! Stop interrupting! ""Don't bother other students. " "Keep your hands to yourself." "Stop making that noise." "Don't waste time!" I have heard numerous parents and even teachers issue...
"I've been having a lot of trouble with him," she said thoughtfully,"especially since his father was in a knife fight and is now unconscious and in intensive care."
"Oh --," was all I could manage to say. The realization of what a trauma this must be to the family, hit me like a brick. Maybe I was too hard on him.
"I know," she said as if she read my thoughts and expression. "They don't know if he will survive brain-damaged or even survive at all. But even that doesn't excuse Duane's behavior. You did the right thing."
As I thought the situation over, I knew she was right. The anguish this eleven year-old boy was going through may have been the reason for his behavior, but it was not an excuse for it.
Teachers all know that inappropriate school behavior is rooted in other problems a child may be facing. Realizing this fact helps us recognize that something which seems like a personal attack, probably has other causes.
On the other hand, we cannot ignore serious misbehaviors. If Duane continues to challenge others with an abusive attitude, he may someday find himself in a situation like his dad's.
Perhaps that is his subconscious aim, but it is not up to us to play analyst. The best we can do -- especially if we have only casual or occasional contact with students, is to follow through with appropriate consequences, making sure that teachers and administrators are aware of exactly what is happening.
Excusing such incidents or ignoring wrong behavior will not help the child. Knowing that there are reasons, will help keep us from overreacting and taking such attacks personally.
Substitutes all look forward to the fun and easy days, but in retrospect I will have to say that I would not trade this experience for a "good" day because I learned so much. It helped me discover that I can be pushed to the edge of anger.
It also reinforced the truth that I already knew-- there are reasons for bad behavior, and it helped me to resolve to not let reasons become excuses.