Not One Of Those Days

There are days when I love my job. Days when I know that some students combated their ignorance with their effort and triumphed. Days when I lay my head on my pillow at night knowing that I did my very best and I changed lives.

Today was not one of those days.

Today was a “Put on Rage Against the Machine and scream at the steering wheel on the way to a church board meeting” days.

(NOTE: That video probably has some swearing in it. So does this post.)

I mean, most of my classes were fine. Kids worked hard, performed well in groups, and built on basic skills AND graphing–a quite successful day.

Except 4th period.

Figure 1: Changing lives

Like a swarm of locusts, they descended on my ramp. Already pushing, yelling, and making inappropriate jokes. I held out my hand for them to shake (as I do every day) and one student flat out refused.

I knew a storm was brewing.

I battened down the hatches and piloted a new game for them, but it was no use. I sent two students to the office before we even finished the warm-up. They made it clear they had no intention of contributing to the class, yet I felt a twinge of regret as I called for their escort–surely I could have done something differently.

The day progressed and three students earned detentions (gum, gum, and continued disruption) before we did our 6 times tables and left.

Then the real show began.

Figure 2: An orderly and respectful classroom

Ryan stayed after school to grudgingly serve his gum detention. I instructed him to move the desks into the configuration I projected on the wall.

“I’m hungry! I don’t wanna do anything!”

Deep breath. “Ryan, you have two options: You can do 15 minutes with me without complaining or you can do two lunch deten–“

“But I’m hungry! I don’t wanna do this!”

“Is that your choice then? The two lunch detentions? I can have Ms. Holwood call you out tomorrow to talk about it.”

“…no.” Ryan stuck up his lip in a perfect teenage sneer. This could have been the cover of Teenage Sneer Monthly.

Figure 3: The “Hiding Gin In A Water Bottle” Issue

“Okay, then. Your two options are 15 minutes with me without complaining or interrupting, or two lunch detentions with Ms. Holwood. What’s it gonna be?”


For the next two minutes, Ryan held a desk and wiggled it when I looked his way. Then he acted surprised when I sent him out.

He paused at the door and screamed, “I hate you!” before pounding a chair and my door with his fists and storming down my ramp.

Figure 4: How he felt vs. How he sounded

Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. My students mostly like me–even the ones that dislike me don’t hate me.

I felt like absolute shit for a couple hours, even though experts in teenage defiance (the RSP teacher, my youth pastor wife) assured me that it was just “what they do”.

Doesn’t matter. I felt (and still feel) that I could have done something different to avoid this situation without compromising the order of my classroom.

Oh, well. I have two days without Ryan in my classroom to think about it. He’s on class suspension pending a parent conference. I guess that means I win.

Sure don’t feel like a winner.

Figure 5: Hurrah for me

UPDATE 10 October 2012

After a phone conference with dad and a day of class suspension, Ryan and I agreed on a hand signal for him to indicate to me when he is getting angry.

Today’s art project and lesson went swimmingly for all classes (including 4th period sans Ryan). Today I feel like a winner.

7 responses to “Not One Of Those Days

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  4. Any thought to solve the hunger issue first? (I have students for whom that’s a real issue…might not have been in this case).

    I like the ‘signal’ idea. I have a few I need to institute that with. Thanks.

  5. I only taught for a few years but I noticed a pattern with my students. The moment a student stepped into my classroom they were under my care and they began the trust test. They pushed my rules, my boundaries and even my personal space to see if I would give them the structure they needed to feel safe in my classroom. The same student who called me an “F’ing B___” later came and thanked me at the end of the year for not giving up on him. The name calling came from assigning a detention for throwing an eraser. Turned out his friend had over dosed on drugs a week earlier and his anger wasn’t really about the detention. I’d encourage you to get to know Ryan more.

  6. Ditto Fiveintow. At some level, a kid in rebellion is often asking, “Do you care enough to say no to me?” You proved you do care that much.

  7. What an awesome thing it is that this kid has a place to be angry where someone cares about him and won’t react back in anger. One of the reasons I subscribed to your blog is because you’re funny. The OTHER reason I subscribed is because it is obvious you care about those kids, those broken, ornery kids with gum. And I guarantee many of them will grow up and forget most of what you taught them (not really, just going for dramatic effect) but they’ll remember that you cared about them. Even Ryan.

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