When Fathers Respond

This is part of how my nearly 80-year-old father reacted to my last posting:

When I read your blog (When Students Attack) my first impulse was to go looking for my old baseball bat and go up to your school and crack a few skulls.

I quickly realized that violence was not the answer to the problem, but I find it frustrating to admit that I don’t know the answer.

It angers and alarms me that you should be attacked. And it stuns me that these students should have the temerity to assault you.

On a happier note, I sent my broken fishing reels to Penn Reels for repair, and they were delivered back to me this morning. So let’s look forward to a day or two of fishing when the weather gets warmer.

This is how I replied

Thank you for wanting to defend me, but I am glad you did not as it would have sent two damaging messages. First, violence is not the answer as it only promotes more violence. Second, having someone come to defend me after the fact delivers the message that I cannot handle my own problems, even though I can and do on a daily basis.

My work is challenging in so many ways. I work with some very angry children who usually have every reason to be angry. They usually act that anger out by yelling, fighting with peers or in more destructive ways, but almost never by hitting a teacher no matter how many threats they make to do so. The threats are bluster, a show for their friends or enemies to establish how tough they are. They aren’t tough and they know it, thus the show.

My work is incredibly rewarding when I see even the slightest incremental growth in maturity, problem-solving skills, or academics. That happens in some measure nearly every day, but it didn’t happen Monday. I have always been eager to come to work, but not Tuesday. I felt defeated and debased. Then I remembered Mamie Eisenhower’s words, that people are about as happy as they decide to be, and I decided to start the day fresh. I cannot afford to hold grudges.

It turns out that the girl who jumped on me had been told late last week that she would be moving into a more restrictive school on Wednesday of this week and she was not happy about it and figured she now had nothing to lose. This was a student I had hopes for. She was very difficult and occasionally violent, but I never had a problem with her. I set, and helped her understand, the high behavioral expectations I had for her. I gave her incremental goals and small rewards when she met them. When she didn’t, I made it clear that I still believed that she could and she would have as many opportunities as it took. With me she was cooperative and almost pleasant.

I have not had the chance to talk with her since the incident, but I suspect she thought that I, her champion and the only adult who treated her pleasantly and with respect, had betrayed her. She doesn’t have the vocabulary to express that thought so she acts out, not only because she feels betrayed but also because she does not know how to express that violation.

That’s the main thing I offer these troubled students: respect and understanding. Its usually enough, and it works better the longer I can work with the student. That’s what so perplexing about the boy who hit me. I started chatting with him when he was in a friend’s fifth grade class. He has a horrible home situation, but he has intelligence and a sense of humor. Last year he was in my class and, while there were occasional problems, he did good work and responded, eventually, to the the academic challenges I gave him.

His home situation has deteriorated this year and he is spending more and more time on the street. The quality of his work and ability to cope emotionally are both declining. He has been betrayed by adults so many times that he has given up on us. He recently was arrested for mugging a man and he has come to school high more than once. He no longer has a border between the street and school, he sees it all as one abusive continuum. He reacted to my challenge as he would have had to react on the street.

He has been put on in-school suspension (as opposed to being suspended and placed in a suspension school) and we’ve seen each other, but every time I try to talk to him he runs. He knows I won’t hit him (I explain my beliefs about non-violence to my students on the first day and several more times in the school year), so I think he’s embarrassed. If so, that’s good; it shows remorse and a continuing sense of wrong and right. There’s still something to work with.

Fishing sounds great.

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2 Responses to When Fathers Respond

  1. debo says:

    Deven,
    I’m sorry to hear your attack story ~ it is disheartening.
    I was attacked with a pair of scissors by a fith grader once. He was as large, in size, as I was. He didn’t ‘get me’ with the scissors, but the reality of his situation and condition did…it broke my heart. This child’s home life was a nightmare. Teachers all through his elementary years predicted he would murder or be murdered eventually. There was no other route for him. I didn’t want to believe that. I wanted to have faith in him and his ability to overcome his circumstance.
    This happened years ago…I’ve no idea whatever happened to him, don’t even remember his full name. But, as I look back across the years I taught and all the students I’ve cared about, he is the one who haunts me. Deven, he was smart, perhaps brilliant, and he was the one I couldn’t reach. I do though, occasionally, whisper a small prayer in his direction. Sometimes that’s the best we can do.

    Deven, good teachers CARE, and I know you’re one of them.

    With re: going fishing >>>”Time spent fishing is not deducted from your life.” ~ancient proverb

  2. [...] teacher defends his decision to remain nonviolent, even when students [...]

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