There was pin drop silence. I was stunned and so were the 45 teens in my class. She wasn’t a girl who spoke much, which could have been why we were speechless when she stood and screamed at me in response to a simple but firm, “Why haven’t you submitted your work in spite of being reminded again for the nth time?”
The class waited for my response. I think even she was shocked at her own outburst. I requested her quietly to sit down and continued with the 10 minutes that remained. The bell rang and she stayed back, loitering around my desk as her classmates filed out for recess. She came to me and apologized shamefacedly, which is when I asked her what had happened.
I found out that her father had been coming home drunk and beating up her mother. The previous night this teenager had to interfere, resulting in her swollen arms and reddened wrists. The girl was already hurting before she stepped into my class that day. When I took her to the school clinic a few days later I also came to know that she had been self-medicating herself so she could die because she had migraine and the pain had become unbearable.
I met her mother a few days later during a PTM when I had to discuss the issue. This time I watched the mother’s agony when her daughter confessed, “Ma’am, the pain is unbearable. I don’t want to live.” It made me realize that the problems at home had manifested as physical pain, which no medicine could possibly cure!
“Ma’am, the pain is unbearable. I don’t want to live.”
As teachers with many years of ‘experience’ under our proverbial belts, how often do we practice the pause when faced with misbehavior? Do we punish a student? What is the first thing that comes to our mind when we see a student who finds seeming pleasure in making our lives miserable in front of an audience?
Is it hatred, frustration or indifference?
Speaking for myself, I’ve been giving much thought on how I respond to misbehavior in my class. I spoke to counselors, read up on the topic, watched videos and implemented numerous steps in my own classes to deal with student misbehavior. Until I realized I wasn’t being very productive in that arena.
Then I started studying my students. The ‘WHEN’ of their behavior instead of WHAT they did to intentionally anger me.
Gradually, this led me to the WHYs and that is when I found it.
Annette Breaux said, "Nine times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won't make you angry, it will break your heart”. My process was time consuming until I could safely identify the reasons, the needs unmet. In the process I realized I had to change MYSELF and my perception of the teen in front of me. He or she was after all in one way: my child. And now I tag my kids. It helps me remember WHO they are to me when I feel the anger rising inside to ‘punish’ them.
Since 2016 I’ve tagged my classes “My Angels”, “My Precious” and “My Gift”. I don’t punish anymore. I don’t humiliate. I discipline. I counsel. I involve friends and family. I pray for them. I know I’ve still got a long way to go before I say I’ve succeeded but I know I’m getting there. I see it in the response from my kids. They know that with me there is no grudge that will be held. They know that they can question my methods of discipline, politely and in private, if they need clarification.
It took many hours of patient counseling, sometimes well into the wee hours of the night, for the girl to give up her suicidal thoughts. It took me one fearsome revelation to start me on this journey of understanding my teens – “What if I hadn’t gone with her to the clinic? Would she have been a part of the nationwide statistics?"