This past week I lost it again. It wasn't off the handle and uncontrolled to the point that I was shaking or to the point that it ruined my day and evening like it used to, but it was losing it nonetheless. While losing it I dropped myself into an especially precarious position that could have taken the rest of the year to crawl out of. I openly challenged a group of students on whether they respected me or not. Such a challenge last year would have been something I lost every time had I tried it, and it wasn't terribly smart this year either.
It was detention and the seven or so kids who were in there simply would not get quite. During detention I do everything I can to run a tight shift, generally standing at the front of the room with a list of detainees on an index card on which I take notes about further infractions they perform while serving their time. Throughout the forty-five minute period I stand and watch them, sending the message that anything they do other than sitting there other than nothing is not acceptable. Needless to say, a handful of students acting nuts on my detention shift does not make me happy.
It was apparently apparent that it was coming on. Another teacher in the room who was their getting some information from me quickly got the hint and left as I threw a few futile efforts out there to get the students quiet. On the list on this particular day was an all-star line-up: a student who has been pushed to the brink of insanity by his home life and has the strong desire to physically confront adults and students alike; a whiny little lil' Wayne wanna-be who feels all teachers are complete morons and should be listened to at no cost; the loudest student in the eighth grade, who may well be the least mature as well; a student who rivals that student for least mature, but who craves positive male attention because from what I can gather his father is less than soft and cuddly when calls are made to the home every night; and, probably our most sporadic and unpredictable female student, who is pretty smart though faces a tough home life herself and dates brink-of-insanity boy to boot.
After numerous firm attempts to get everyone seated and quiet I stopped for a couple seconds, which gave them the impression that I might stop asking them altogether. I relaxed all the muscles in my face, which is a trick I picked up in a professional development once to made myself look both indifferent and a bit stern in additional to helping calm me down a bit. Then BOOM- I erupted into a choppy, less than eloquent monologue about how they should be acting in my detention, that at this point in the year I thought we knew one another better than what their present behavior was telling me and that it was blindingly apparent that they had zero respect for me as a teacher or as an adult, let alone for themselves.
Silence. Even brink-of-insanity boy was left blinking, wondering where that came from. One muttered that what I said wasn't the case at all. I fumed a good amount and then just got quiet and kept standing at attention at the front of the room, unable to do much more than that and not wanting to break the rule of silence in my detention room any further. Little lil' Wayne thought that was comical and giggled quietly to himself (which for him showed more self-control than usual) and all but one of the others settled down for the most part until the end of the period. That one student was suspended.
In retrospect I was playing with fire. Respect is the most important capital teachers on the front line have. To gamble what little I might have with my most difficult students could have ended in a disastrous management problem for weeks to come, if not until the end of the year. Perhaps I'll change my mind once I get more experience, but for now I'm going to cool it with calling out students on how much they respect me.
Today's Wine: Sebastiani Zinfandel 2006. On the vineyard's website this goes for $15, but the store near us has it for around $10. It's from Sonoma County, California, which I preferred for many of the reasons presented in the article linked here. It's less hyped-up, more laid back and seems to produce pretty similar quality wines for my buck. Perhaps I'm not buying in the correct price-range though...