Teaching Tuesday: Final Stretch Melt Down

It seems like every year right before break one of my students melts down in a pretty epic way. Sometimes it is over a grade. Sometimes it is over lack of time. And sometimes it is because they get caught breaking the rules and they freak out that I actually hold them accountable.

That’s what happened on Wednesday, the day before finals began.

The tantrum actually has a bit of a back story the Friday before. I was out with a sick child and as always left very detailed, very clear directions for my students. Like every teacher, I hate being absent from my classroom as that is when chaos breaks out. Even the most reliable students get squirrely when a sub is around. Those students who need quite a bit of my attention and redirection when I’m sitting right in front of them often act like it’s Lord of the Flies when a sub enters a room.

I wasn’t entirely surprised that right in the middle of my second block class I got an email from one of my students asking for clarification on an assignment. He understood the expectations, but several classmates were trying to convince the sub of something different. Unlike his peers who were being shortsighted and only thinking about that class period on Friday, he knew that when I got back and found they’d not followed my directions, there would be consequences and he wanted no part of that.

It was in this email exchange that he told me one of his classmates, who is generally good-natured, but has the attention span of a fruit fly, had spilled a drink in my classroom. This would normally not be an issue as I have plenty of paper towels in my room and several kids had already grabbed them and were helping to clean. However, for some reason I still cannot fathom, the young man who spilled his drink decided to go behind my desk and break into my teacher cabinet, assuring the sub that he was sure I had cleaning supplies in there.

I don’t.

And my cabinet was locked, so break in is the right phrase. He yanked my cabinet hard enough to pull the lock and got it open. He then grabbed a can of Static Guard and caused even more chaos trying to clean up his mess with it. The sub finally got everyone calmed down, the can back in my cabinet, but could not get my closet to close again as it was now broken.

As soon as I found out, I emailed the vice principal because as harmless as the kid usually is, I draw the line at breaking into my cabinet for any reason. Students know they are not allowed behind my desk and definitely not in my cabinet, which I keep locked even when I am in the classroom. It’s where I keep my purse and my newspaper equipment (including an iPad, digital cameras, Flip cameras, etc).

The vice principal agreed he’d gone one step too far, especially considering he was also failing my class so badly (due to work he’d never done and 15 absences) that he could not pass my class. She was supposed to place him in in school suspension for the remainder of the class. However, he was absent on Monday, so she assured me she’d talk to him upon his return.

But he didn’t return on Tuesday either.

On Wednesday we were rushing to finish up project presentations, so although I saw him in my classroom, I didn’t want to cause a fuss at the start of class. I wanted to get through all the presentations and then send him to see the VP.

Before I could do that, he pulled out his cell phone in the middle of class and started texting on it. My school has a strict no cell phone policy during school hours. Teachers aren’t even supposed to see cell phones sticking out of pockets or being used as music players. Students are definitely not supposed to be texting in class. If we see their phones, we are supposed to either send them to ISS or if they hand over the phone (which we give to the administration), they can serve a detention instead.

I am a rule follower. And, I’d had two other cell phone violations in my classroom where I’d clearly followed the policy. I knew that even though I didn’t want a scene, I had to follow the policy in order to be fair to all of my students. He refused to hand over his cell phone, preferring to take ISS. As I was writing his pass to ISS, I expressed my disappointment that he would have his cell phone out, especially in light of his behavior on Friday when he broke into my cabinet.

He didn’t even let me finish talking before saying, “I do what I want.”

I thought I misheard him, so I said, “excuse me?” Confusion filled my voice.

He responded quickly, “Did I stutter.”

At that point, I took a deep breath and told him ISS was no longer an option and that he’d be going straight to see the VP. He told me he didn’t care and that he didn’t have to listen to either of us. He then waved his hand dismissively at me and walked out of the room.

He definitely got his ISS wish as he spent the remainder of the school year in there. While his absence definitely made the final two days calmer and easier for me, I hate the fact that he chose to do something so foolish.

While I know not every student enjoys school, I don’t understand why students don’t want to do the bare minimum needed to get by and graduate. I already knew this particular kid wasn’t going to graduate (and not just because of my class), so I can’t help but wonder if he felt he had nothing to lose by being rude to me during the last few days of class. I also find myself wondering how successful he could have been if he spent even just a tiny bit of his energy in a positive way.

I also find myself contemplating what will happen to him in the next year or five or ten. I realize that failing one high school English class or even failing out of high school may not spell disaster for every kid out there, as there are still jobs that do not need even a high school diploma, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if kids pull the same attitudes on bosses that they do on their teachers.

On days like last Wednesday, after I get over the initial upset of the situation, I try to take a deep breath and remember something one of my mentor teachers told me, “life is a wonderful teacher.” Maybe I won’t be the one to teach a student how to achieve, but my hope is that someone out there will be able to get the message across. My guess is that for students like the young man in my classroom, those lessons may be very painful and may come from sources I’d rather they not, but my hope is eventually that someone gets through to them and they get their lives back on track.

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Filed under bad days, education, life as a teacher, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, teaching, what makes me me

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