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"Damn! What's Your Problem?" | Defiant Kid vs. Substitute Teacher

Updated on October 4, 2015
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle worked for 20 years in elementary schools as a sub teacher, eventually presenting teacher training workshops in Orange County, CA.

Tha calm of an empty classroom.
Tha calm of an empty classroom. | Source

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.

The way it used to be.
The way it used to be. | Source

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.

"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.

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    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 9 years ago from California

      Rochelle,

      It takes a special person to be a substitute teacher, especially at those grade levels. Accountability, IMHO is something that should always be taught. Thankfully you have the experience to understand the importance of keeping your temper at bay. It sounds like it truly was a very grand learning experience for all who were involved. Welcome to Hubpages.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you.

      Subbing was a great experience for me, yes sometimes it was hard, but always interesting.

      I remember one 'difficult class' where at the end of the day a student told me that it was the best they had ever been for a sub. My gut feeling was to say "You're kidding!" , but actually it did make me feel a little better about the day.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      One moment in time, one gift to this boy. I so admire what you did, and how you did it. You didn't know the circumstances. Yet, you treated him as you would treat any other child. He needed that. Right then.

      Welcome to HP.

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Hi Rochelle,

      Powerful hub, beautifully written. A lesson for all of us to learn, thank you :)

      ditto, welcome to hubpages,

      Patty

    • donnaleemason profile image

      donnaleemason 9 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      I have a lot of respect for good teachers. You are a rare breed.

      Donna

    • Juliet Christie profile image

      Juliet Christie Murray 8 years ago from Sandy Bay Jamaica

      I do understand you very well dear 37 years of at least one day a week like that

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Donnalee: I have met lot of good ones. Full-time teaching takes a lot of patience and work.

      Juliet: It can bee discoraging, sometimes, but worth hanging in there.

    • John Juneau profile image

      John Juneau 8 years ago from Sierra Nevadas

      I am substituting regularly now, and have done some substituting in previous years while working with my own students part time. Whether as a substitute or in a regular position, the sad thing is that a student like this needs help in ways that the classroom teacher cannot supply, but in most schools (all that I have been in) the district has no plan or resources for dealing with them. Their time in the classroom is rarely beneficial to them; meanwhile they are taking away learning opportunities from others. There is nothing better you could have done. I have been frustrated with this kind of situation many times.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks John-- haven't had anyone read this one for awhile, but it was memorable.

      I'm sure the district officials were aware of it at the time-- and it was really an exception in this particular school. I'm sure others areas might be overwhelmed by this kind of student.

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 8 years ago from Australia

      Rochelle , I'm catching up on your older Hubs and I must say this was a beauty.

      I have a great belief that you have stated very concisely why some of our younger generation are out of control.

      quote:

      there are reasons for bad behavior, and it helped me to resolve to not let reasons become excuses.

      unquote

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you for the comment. Yes. it was a moment that gave me some insight.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Hey, Rochelle -- was looking for your hub on apples, and found myself reading this one instead. Glad I dropped by, your hubs are always well worth reading. Now. Where are the apples?

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Apples?? -- Can't recall, Give me another clue. I think someone wrote on apples -- maybe it was the garden of Eden thing (which I didn't write)??

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Oh, yes, I guess I'm confusing you with Milton (you two have such similar styles). I'm off to read the one about the garden gnomes now, to see if it has apples in it.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Do you know what's happened with this boy since you wrote the hub?

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Oh good-- I'll have to look up Milton,

      Also this (Damn!...) and the Gnomes one are two of my own personal favorites.. along with Purposely Purseless..... and oh never mind... .

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      No, London-- I worked in a lot of schools... especially in "special" classes. It was impossible to track them all, especially in my position as a sub teacher, I did not have access to private information. My job was to do my best at the moment, and that's the best I ever could do.

      Hope he survived without deep scars, but who knows?

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      sounds like a difficult situation.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      I was thinking of John Milton, Paradise Lost. There was an apple in that. At least, it might have been a pear (does he ever say directly what kind of fruit? It could have been a citrus grove, for all we know). Dang, girl: did you write a hub on all the types of apples we don't get to eat anymore because they've been weeded out of the food chain in the food chains?

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      For me, it wasn't so difficult. I was limited with what I could do. In this case, I think I did OK. I'm sure it was a difficult situation for this child -- yet ,I am encouraged that the regular teacher and the school were aware of his situation. I am sure that resources were provided to help him and his family.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      My youngest child is studying to become a teacher.

      I am very proud of his choice and why he made it. Lovely hub.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Teresa-- I think that was Jeri Wei.. if so , I am pleased to be compared to her.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Oh, thanks. You're a pippin.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Oh, I have to say it. When I was in school, I would have got a lot more than a slip of paper if I said those words to a teacher. Your response was perfect and professional. The last thing a kid in Duane's circumstances needs, as his whole reality tilts beneath his feet, is to reach out and find that the rules bend, too. On some level he may even draw comfort that at least this remains predictable.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      As a teacher-- especially as a substitute teacher-- I fully understood that it is the goal of some youngsters to evoke an angry, out-of-control reaction. I usually keep my cool, but this one almost got me.

      As I said, I'm glad for the experience that taught me more about myself, and about how to maintain the professional veneer, even when it fights against a 'natural' reaction.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Good teachers are Gold!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      I'll bet your had some. Or is all of that imagination self-generated?

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi Rochelle. Thanks for the enlightening story and, really, a lesson in life. A good friend of mine in NY, substitute taught in the NYC school system. He told quite a few stories, which to the ear of a greenhorn from the midwest, seemed shocking. Now though, you see this behavior in kids everywhere. It seems to me that little has been written about how we, as adults, cope with this new attitude in kids. This constant angst and the unshakable idea that the world owes them. What about us? It's as if it's our duty to accommodate them, and not the other way around, as it was when I was a kid.

      Anyway, thank you for the thought-provoking article. It was very good.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you muchly, Cristoph. (See how good my vocabulary is?)

      Sometimes dealing with these attitudes is a real balancing act, the trick is to not be bowled over.

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      I had some wonderful teachers! My freshman English teacher inspired me to write. It made me a better person because she gave me the nudge to do so. Thirty years later, I found her and thanked her. She is still teaching. There is a story about her in my hubs.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      I had a similar experience. My Sophomore English Teacher told me I could write. He later became my University journalism prof. I found him again a couple of years ago through the internet and thanked him. He's in his nineties.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 8 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      I don't know how I would have handled this situation. I more than likely would have snapped back, "What's YOUR problem?" Needless to say, I am not a teacher, substitute or otherwise.

      I give you a lot of credit for your cool reaction. I'm sad to hear about the boy's father and do hope he is able to overcome his trauma. That's tough for a kid to deal with.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      I knew better than to overreact-- but I do believe I was clenching my teeth. Everyone has a backstory. Realizing that fact, makes it a little easier.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      I remember a T-shirt logo and bag logo that was popular at school in the mid-1990s - "The World Doesn't Owe you a Living - it was here first"

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Hmmm... true, though I don't remember seeing it.

    • profile image

      Solomon517 8 years ago

      You were realy patient. Thanks for the lesson.

    • profile image

      Solomon517 8 years ago

      You were realy patient. Thanks for the lesson.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you, and thank you again, Solomon.

    • ErinElise profile image

      Erin 5 years ago from Near Sacramento, California

      Rochelle,

      This was a very good hub. You are a great writer.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you, ErinElise. The truth is-- I had a good story to tell.

    • wynnestudios profile image

      wynnestudios 5 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      LMAO... Awesome!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

      I appreciate the "awesome" comment, wynnestudios, but at the time I could find no humor in the situation. I don't think I ever heard what happened to the boy, but he didn't really get off to a good start in life. I hope someone loved him enough to turn him in a good direction.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      hi rochelle,

      such a good depiction of what happens between a sub and a kid that doesn't want to follow the rules. i remember being in high school and we had a sub he didn't care about what we did he was really not a good teacher. however, not all situations are like mine and there are subs out there who want to be a teacher and loves the practice that they get from being a sub but may get discouraged due to a defiant kid. very informational and nice tips. voted up.

    • Anna Evanswood profile image

      Anna Evanswood 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Great writing, thanks for sharing your story:)

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country

      There are many kinds of teachers and subs-- as well as students. I think subbing is a good way to prepare for full time teaching, maybe even more helpful than student teaching because you get to see a variety of situations. Thanks for commenting, torrilynn.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks for reading, Anna Evanswood.

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 2 years ago from USA

      I began my teaching career with a 2-year stint as an elementary sub. I had many days like the one you describe above, and my share of defiant children. As a short-term sub, I rarely learned the backgrounds of these troubled kids. When I became a full-time teacher, I learned much more about them, and what I learned was usually disturbing. They required many "talk it out" sessions about what signals they could give me when they felt overwhelmed in the classroom - and how I could help, usually by providing them quiet time and space, as well as help from the school counselor.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image
      Author

      Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country

      You are right, EdTeacher. The key is remaining calm and not taking things personally. The reasons behind their actions can be complex and may have nothing to do with school.

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