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Week 4/15-4/19

angermanagementOur lives are not without confrontations and conflict. Confrontations and conflict, although many times unpleasant, is a part of the human experience. People are dynamic and adaptive individuals; one minute we’re hot, the next we’re cold and our moods and desires shift with the way we feel physically and emotionally. Add a number of individuals with different needs, wants and opinions to a school setting and you are bound to stumble upon a confrontation or two.

Students have conflict with each other, with educators and with parents. The educators have conflict with each other, with students and with parents… it is safe to say that everyone has conflict with each other and some confrontations do happen. Some end in peace and as resolved matters while others fester and are quite feisty. It would be a wonderful thing if everyone could resolve their disputes amicably but that is not always the case… even between students and teachers. It is common place for students to despise some of their teachers. Even at 30 years old, there are some teachers from my past that I don’t care to remember; even as a teacher and now appreciating the nature of teaching and how tough it can be, it doesn’t matter. Likewise, there are teachers who don’t care for a segment of their student population. Some teachers even hold grudges against those very students who have “wronged” them. My sister-in-law would give her teachers a hard time when she was in high school. When it came time to ask for a favor, because she failed to handle her business academically, one of her teachers failed to bump her failing grade to a passing grade by a few tenths of a point, thus she couldn’t graduate. The saying is true; you indeed reap what you sow.

I tend to be a calm customer in the classroom. My students can be a bit much, specifically my freshmen students, but I never let them see me sweat or get angry. Yet this week I was challenged by one of my young lady freshmen. I had a few minor run-ins with her in the past, but I was able to walk away unscathed and she the same. I am usually able to handle any issues of smart mouths and bad attitudes with my aura, which can be equally piercing with the flair of a parent who is not concerned with being friends with a teenager. Well, this week, I fantasized about my parents seeing my mug shot on Action News from, in the words of my mother, “knocking the black off” of one of my kids… and I say that with the utmost affection.

Moment of the Week

While teaching on North Korea, one of my students, let’s call her Ryan, engaged me in a back and forth that involved her asserting her belief that she is a grown adult speaking to a grown adult. Ryan is a beautiful person. She is inquisitive and very intelligent. However, she lacks the confidence necessary to assert herself with respect to academic challenges. She is one of those students who will lean on a teacher when she is unsure of herself and ability to grasp a concept. Ryan is also stubborn and when it comes to the things that she is sure about, she’s a know it all. Ryan knows that it is the job of the teacher to teach and she makes the “as needed” effort to remind all of her teachers of that – Ryan is “the customer is always right” personified.

Unsure of what something meant, she asked me about a phrase that she had just copied from the smartboard. Aggravated that I had just explained it, I told her that I just explained it and I had a bit of an annoyed tone. She told me that she didn’t understand it and I told her that she shouldn’t have been talking to her neighbor when I was talking and that was her fault that she didn’t hear my explanation of the notes. Long story short, she kept talking under her breath as I was holding my composure while at the same time admonishing her to be quiet. After she caused a stir with her defiance among her classmates, I calmed myself down internally and called her out of the room to have a chat. The chat was really pointless with the exception of making me feel better by reminding her who was the boss. All I did was work myself up, piss her off even more, raise my voice and lose my executional (I know that isn’t a word, but roll with me) focus for the remainder of the class. Looking back, I should have said my piece in the classroom and took the remainder of her smart mouth on the chin and kept it moving. Some battles are not worth fighting.

Lesson of the Week

I realized after that conversation that not only that I shouldn’t have spoken with her after our confrontation, but that I am continuously learning how to process my anger. It is amazing how much we learn about ourselves when working with children… our inner child often comes out when working with our students. Whenever I feel disrespected and attacked, particularly in front of others – specifically people who I am in authority over – I take it personal and I like to shut down. In this situation, I was able to calm myself to a degree, but I was still pissed and it resulted in thinking with my heart and not my head. Verbal retaliation seemed like the best thing in that moment, but I was wrong, just as she Ryan was. I had to take a step back, reevaluate my ability to deal with conflict and confrontation and take the necessary steps to dealing with it better. After all of that, Ryan and I are fine today, she’s still a good kid and I hold no grudge against her whatsoever… but she got a detention for her troubles. Regardless of our equal need for maturation, she still needs to respect the chain of command.

I pay taxes in my classroom… she just rents space for a year.

Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in Southern New Jersey. His Urban Education...

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