We got a new seventh grade student in the special education department this past week and news that he was coming spooked me. According to reports the boy was in a juvenile detention facility for some time for breaking someone’s jaw. I don’t usually pay attention to reputations or rumors, so why did this boy’s immanent arrival make me doubt my abilities. I am usually very confident in my abilities to form relationships with students, to mediate their behaviors and to help them learn. Not this time.
I was so shaky about what was about to happen that I reached out to colleagues around the world via twitter for advice on how to handle this 13-year-old who somehow had become a haunting specter. My personal learning network on twitter includes many special education teachers and they advised me on how to introduce this child to me and my classroom. They didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know to do but I was reassured that my experience had taught me enough to handle the situation.
So why was I still nervous? I’ve had new students, many of them very troubled or having psychological problems, come into my classes before with aplomb. Why not now? Why was I so alarmed?
I’ve been reflecting about this and have come up with several reasons for my apprehension.
I’m tired; it is late in the school year and I am already starting to think about the process of shutting down my program and packing up the computers, books and other tools of my trade.
Getting any new student this late in the year is frustrating because there isn’t time to accomplish much of anything.
The new student was being placed into a class that was already difficult to manage because of its range of disabilities and behaviors which include two students who are selectively mute, a student with obsession compulsive disorder, another hostile angry boy and three hyperactive students whose medication levels desperately need to be adjusted to account for recent growth.
The final reason for my anxiety bothered me the most. I have already written about the two physical attacks on me earlier this year. Though I have no remaining physical damage from those incidents I apparently still have psychological damage to repair. If students who I had relationships with could come to attack me, a student who did not know me and who has a history of violence seems even more likely to.
I am large and strong and can be physically intimidating, facts that generally give me confidence and a sense of security, but I am also 55 years old, not in prime physical shape and increasingly aware of my mortality
Having fear is reasonable under certain circumstances and this may be one of them, but showing fear is a sign of weakness that is certain to be exploited.
There are only about 30 days left in the school year and only about 20 periods left when I’ll have this new boy in my classroom. I can hide my fear that long.