How your day can go from pretty good to just plain bad in 30 seconds…

In teaching, anger should be an act, a conscious choice on the part of the teacher to communicate something to students.  Acting angry when you’re actually angry is bad news and tends to exacerbate the problem.  Those two sentences are easy to write and very hard to live by.  We’re all human, and pre-adolescents can push your buttons like no one else.  I will confess to having occasional flashes of anger that I can’t push down under a cover of patience and calm.

Today, I walked downstairs to dismiss my class, and waited outside on the sidewalk, helping move the kids along, clearing the area.  All of a sudden, a big girl from another school rushed in the door of our building, grabbed and hit one of my students!  I figured she must be his brother or close friend, playing a little too rough, and so I took him aside.  “What was that all about?  Who is she?”

“I’ve never seen her before in my life!” he said (I’m not sure I believe this, but that’s a separate issue).

I approached her.  I wasn’t angry, wasn’t screaming, but it was the end of a long day, I was tired and just wanted to buy a Coke at the store down the block and take off for a workout at my gym.  But attack one of my kids?!  No way.  “What was that all about?”  I asked her.

She flipped out, cursed me out, got “right up in my face,” as they say.  Now my adrenaline was rising.

“I can see what school you go to, now what’s your name?” I said.  “I’m going to give them a call about this incident.”

“Go ahead and call them!  I don’t have a name!”  and so on.

I asked the students standing nearby.  One of them coughed up the girl’s nickname.   Another teacher approached me and let me know the girl’s full name.  At this, the girl went off on white people, a string of curses at “those white teachers.”

I think I said something like, “If you hate everyone here so much, why are you standing outside our door bothering our kids?!” but at this point I was definitely angry acting angry.  I looked around at the audience of students, teachers, and a handful of parents and decided our little conversation was over.  I had no intention of getting into a shouting match with a strange girl (and her crew, who were backing her up) on the sidewalk.  This isn’t what I expect of my students, and it was time to take a deep breath and let it go.

Another teacher tried to talk to her calmly, and she cursed him out, too.  Meanwhile, her friends were strolling in and out of the building, shoving people aside, making rude comments, and so on.  Finally, the girl they were waiting for was dismissed.  I took her aside and asked her to arrange to meet her friends somewhere else, explaining that they had been very rude to her teachers.  She nodded, but who knows whether she got the message?

(Meanwhile, our security guard, who is supposed to watch the door and prevent strangers from entering, was wandering around down the block, staring dreamily down at the empty schoolyard… um, hello?  We could use some security around here…)

*sigh*  Not a nice ending to the day.  Not nice because of what happened, and not nice because I am unhappy with myself for letting her get a rise out of me.  I guess the silver lining is that I had plenty of adrenaline still in my system for use on the ellipticals!



Filed under New York, teaching

4 responses to “How your day can go from pretty good to just plain bad in 30 seconds…

  1. It must have been in the air in the NE. Same kind of day at my school. Thank goodness every day is not all like today.

  2. All things considered, you sounded like you handled everything professionally while letting the student know you meant business. Everyone gets angry; you remained in control and were able to recognize the moment you needed to walk away. You did the right thing.
    I, too, would be questioning the job readiness of the ‘security guard’…

  3. An art history friend of mine recently lost her temper (in her proper British accent) at two college students who were talking over her lecture, and she embarrassed and ejected them infront of 125 of their peers. My friend felt awful, but had reached her limit. I suppose she’ll get more of a reputation after this incident, but if that’s what it takes to earn respect, then so be it.
    I personally feel terrible when anger gets the best of me in school…

  4. damn. kids with attitude drive me up the WALL. it still sounds like you handled it pretty well. and i hope that security guard starts doing his/her job!

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