Shaken & Pretending I’m Not

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.

I hope.

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Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

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8 Responses to Shaken & Pretending I’m Not

  1. Nancy Devine says:

    what a terrific post! you’ve got me almost in tears. you aptly and honestly articulate how exhausting teaching is, that we teachers have emotions.

    • Deven Black says:

      Even though some education critics think of teachers as mindless automatons, we are real people with real emotions, real concern for our students, real ideas and real frustrations. We need to be included in all conversations about changing schooling, redefining education, teacher training and teacher assessment.

  2. Kelly Hines says:

    You have clearly expressed why teaching is not, and never can be, “just a job.” These are the emotions and realities that cannot be explained. Thank you.

  3. Lucia Meyerson says:

    Enjoyed this post. It brought to mind the time,near the end of my teaching career, that I came home and announced that I was going to quit, even lose out on a full pension,(didn’t care) because of a new student in my reading group who was so disruptive that I could teach nothing during the time he was with me, which was for 2 pds.every morning. My pleas for help fell on deaf ears. I tried every trick in the book to reach him, even to come to a truce,but HE was always in control. I was also panicked about not being able to serve the other students as I should and was afraid about being judged on this as well.
    Well,I toughed it out, he eventually moved on, and I lived to tell the tale. And so my advice to you is.. “And this too shall pass”.. With admiration and respect for you..L

  4. Adam says:

    Obviously, your writing makes us feel your anguish. Our schools have become “problem solving central”, but without all of the tools. I hope your building principal is being overly supportive.

    • Deven Black says:

      My principal is very supportive and is not happy about having this student in our building. This student needs a more structured and supportive environment than our school is able to provide, but his parents object to him being placed in a more restrictive environment.

  5. Mary Rodger says:

    I was moved by your post. Teaching today is stressful in the best of situations. Your stress is surely magnified by the added challenges you deal with. Your “humaness” is what makes you fearful-it’s also the quality that makes you a caring teacher-kind of a double edged sword. Try to stay positive-maybe the new boy won’t be as big a challenge as you’re anticipating. Wishing you a peaceful end to your year.

  6. you have a great write up! thank you for this one. i was really moved with this. i admire you for your patience and optimism despite difficulties.

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