Cathedral Building

Another Teaching Blog

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Defusing a bomb.

"What’s going on, what happened?"

H is seething and storming off, a stocky middle schooler with self-proclaimed “issues” who can swing from role model to swearing, furniture-punching walkout in a heartbeat.

Some words are on the strict “no” list (no use, no argument - just discipline).  But when I know who’s shouting well enough, I know how seriously to approach what they say.

So when H fires back with “Because he’s a queer!” …the procedure’s a little different, and it isn’t a word I ever expected to stray over.

There is, in general, a zero-tolerance rule for that kind of language.  We’re shutting it down.  It doesn’t need to be a part of their general vocabulary unless they’re using it in an appropriate, not abusive, context.  But H is pissed at something else entirely and comes from a household that promotes the idea that if you really want to insult someone you call them a f*g.

He doesn’t mean it.  I know it; he knows it.  And giving a one-off admonishment won’t fix what is about to be a “situation.”  So I try something different.

"No.  H — you don’t mean that.  And of all the people to say that to, you know…rethink this. What’s actually the problem?"

He doesn’t know what to do when I don’t shut him down, so he tries to look angry instead of slightly guilty.

"H, you’re a smart guy.  You can find other words to tell me what’s going on."

"No I’m not."

Oh.  That isn’t what I expected.  Not in the slightest.  And it isn’t true.  So I tell him so.  “You are — you’re incredibly bright.  You can help run this [program], I’ve seen you do it.  I know that we can fix this if you calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

Most of the anger completely fizzles out.  He’s clinging hard to it but as he explains the situation — he kicked a foul and didn’t budge but the pitcher, an already-marked adversary, insisted on announcing that it was a foul, standard procedure — even he realizes that he might be overreacting.

"…you know, you guys have been out here awhile, it’s the end of the day, you’re all tired — maybe you two need to not be in the same space."

"Yeah.  I’m gonna sit over there."

When we got back inside he apologized for the slur. 

It wasn’t a perfect situation — there wasn’t an immediate disciplinary measure at hand that would have done anything but made the situation a hundred times worse — but what happened worked.  It worked well enough that I went home feeling good about it.

Filed under education lgbtq discipline classroom management

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