My Classroom Anti-hero

David came into my class late in the first quarter–transferred from an alternative school for behavior management. It wasn’t long before he was suspended the first time.

It wasn’t that he was a bad kid. He didn’t search out ways to be disruptive and he never tried to disobey authority. He never had a malicious intent and he rarely broke a smile. But the kid had no impulse control. His body moved before his brain even knew what he was doing. He couldn’t sit still–if he could manage to sit at all. And he couldn’t help but grab everything that came within reach–like my watch or my pen, someone else’s pencil, anything on my desk, or the money in my pocket.

He never kept what he took. If he did, he would actually have something to do his school work with. As it was, he couldn’t even keep up with the school supplies I gave him. Every day he came to school with nothing but his clothes. And when he left my class, he left behind all the paper and pencils I had given him, along with the homework assignment and whatever piece of notes he managed to scribble down between dance moves and kleptomania.

David was a five foot boy of hard muscle and the most expressive eyes I’ve seen outside of a Disney cartoon. Every day I’d check his behavior at my door–blocking the way with my arm until he promised to sit directly in his seat. When he pressed himself against my arm, I realized that he was probably strong enough to break it if he wanted to. And he knew it. But even though he had obviously seen his share of fights, he was not the kind of kid that would want to do something that terrible to another.

Sometimes I wished I could request a straitjacket for him. Just seeing him walk down the hall towards my door was draining. The kid had energy like a beam of light. I couldn’t keep up with him. But there were times when I was very glad he was there.

His class was the hardest class for me to handle(still is, honestly). They were the class that prided themselves on making teachers quit. And I have to admit, by the middle of October, I had a bit of an existential crisis.

I had been warned that October was the month of crazy in this school. I tried to brace myself for whatever that meant, but nothing could prepare me for it. Fights broke out constantly. Somebody got up to sharpen a pencil and the next thing I know, I’ve got a boy bigger than me punching a boy half his size. Desks got knocked over. The two of them tumbled out into the hallway. And all the while, the rest of my class is cheering like they’re watching a football game. I ran for the phone to call the office and just then, I see David come barreling out of nowhere and tackling one of the fighters to the ground. “Great,” I said, “Now there’s 3 of them in a fight.”

“No,” a girl next to me said, “Look, he’s breaking them up.”

And sure enough, David picked himself and the kid off the floor, shoved one student into another classroom and wrapped his arms around the other to physically restrain him. The fight was done. Four teachers stood watching with heads poking out of the doorway behind them. An EC teacher came storming out of her room, high heels clicking on the tile and dreadlocks bouncing on her back, and grabbed the kid that David was holding onto, dragging him to her room to find out what had just happened.

With nothing else to do, David came right back into class, pushing past all the onlookers who were still talking excitedly about what just happened. He was the first one back in his chair. As he started copying down the notes off the board he looked up at me with his big Bambi eyes and said, “Am I doing good?”

And that’s when David became my bouncer.

It wasn’t long after that another kid fell under the spell of October and went berserk when someone took her lip gloss.

She was a scrawny girl, not much thicker than a twig. High pitched and temperamental, I never knew if it was going to be a good day with her or a bad one. She was the kind of girl that could smile sweetly and curse you at the same time. On this particular day, she was quiet and focused until her lip gloss went missing.

A common prank in the school was to steal something and pass it around (or throw it around)–a little like Monkey in the Middle. I was still learning that this sort of behavior existed and was never fast enough to catch anyone in the act. So I was rather useless to figure out who had her lip gloss.

The poor girl, feeling victimized by the whole class, resorted to screaming and flailing her small, bony fists at the two boys she suspected the most–one of which being David. Both boys backed away. There are very few boys in this school who would ever fight a girl–even out of self-defense. I was making my away across the classroom to try and sort out the situation (honestly, at a complete loss as to how I would do it).  When she was done hitting the first boy who held his arms up defensively against her, the girl turned on David. David didn’t hesitate to act in the best way he knew how. One by one, he grabbed her wrists as she swung at him and pinned her to the wall. She slumped to the ground crying and he sat down next to her on the floor, explaining that he didn’t have her lip gloss and doing his best to console her. The boy who drove me nuts saved the day again.

I was starting to feel quite glad that I had this crazy ball of unrestrained energy in my classroom. But most unfortunately, October was his last month in my class as the month’s warping effects touched him as well. And by late October, he was suspended for steeling money out of my pocket. He swears it was just a prank and he was going to give it back. But the on-campus resource officer doesn’t do pranks. He was suspended for ten days and was transferred out shortly after.

My class is quieter now. November is starting off much more peacefully than October. Nobody has tried to fight each other (although there have been some threats). And David isn’t running around my classroom with someone else’s pen, jumping over chairs or grabbing my wrist as I walk by. And I can’t make up my mind on how to feel about that.

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Right and Wrong

I am relearning everything this year. Particularly in the field of classroom discipline. I’m now ten weeks into the year and I think I’m starting to grasp a few of the basics for handling the behavior in this new culture of the inner city. I suppose when the environment that you grow up in is this tough and mean and violent, it takes a whole different level of punishment to show a kid that they need to fix their behavior. But I’m told that I must be doing something right because this week I received an anonymous and poorly written note from one of the students. I won’t tell you what it says. The only two words that would be appropriate to write are my name. Apparently getting cussed out is a sign of a win on my part. I think I’ll have it framed as a milestone.

I think I’m failing in after-school detention, though. I thought I was doing it all right, but now I’ve got several kids begging to have after-school detention with me. I can’t complain. They do a good job at cleaning my room. And the custodian is thrilled. But it’s strange and maybe a little sad when I get four students in a week asking if they can stay for detention instead of going home. I’d offer them tutoring instead, but… then I’d have to pick up trash off my floor.

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