The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Seems Like It Was a Lifetime Ago...

        Three years ago, I had a student in my third grade class who had what I (a layperson) would call an "episode."  She lost all control.  She went berserk.  And she broke a small part of me.

        It was within the first two months of school.  We didn't know each other terribly well; she was reluctant to trust the teachers at our school, but I thought it would happen at some point, given some time.

       All of a sudden, as we walked down the hall to P.E., she began lashing out at the other kids, swinging her fists at kids and kicking them.  She had no specific target; it seemed she just wanted to do some damage.

        Luckily, we were right at my friend's classroom and also fortunately, another teacher was walking by at that exact time.  My friend had the same plan period  I did, so her students had already been dropped off at the music class.  Since her room was empty, I took this out-of-control student into the empty classroom, and the other teacher walked my class down to gym.

          While we were in there, she screamed, she watched out of the corner of her eye as she pinched my arms and scratched them, trying to gauge my reaction.  She threw chairs across the room and knocked over desks. I was with her for the "ride" and she was my bucking bronco;  I had her in a bear hug from behind, trying to keep her from hurting herself and from destroying whatever was in her path.

         At one point, early on, I had my friend lock the classroom door because I knew if she got "loose" into the hall, and possibly other classrooms filled with students, other kids would be injured.  She was so hurt inside, she was bent on hurting others. 

photo by Loupiote

        The whole time, she was shrieking and I was crying. I don't even remember now exactly what I said to her, but I know I tried to convey to her that I cared about her, that she didn't really want to hurt me, that if she calmed down, we could talk about it...

         The custodian came in at one point and tried to talk to her.  (We have an exceptional custodian, who has a real rapport with the students.)  My friend was there. The counselor was there.  The principal-in-charge came (our principal was at a workshop), and when it was all over, was an incredibly calming influence.  The police were called, and tried to convince me to press charges.  Since I was not physically hurt in a permanent way, I refused.

         She had been in a foster home, and after that day was hospitalized and then went to a mental health facility/group home. I tried to get information so I could visit her, but since I was not a family member and was no longer her teacher, I was not given the needed details.

         That day she had grabbed a handful of my skirt during the ordeal, and tore a piece off.  (Again, while she watched me out of the corner of her eye. I will never forget that sliver of white, her brown eye glinting. She was like a wild horse, panicked about the prospect of being corralled.)  The skirt was gauzy, one of those "broom" skirts, so the fabric was thin.  Thankfully, the part missing was at the hem edge, so even though the bottom looked a little ragged, I could continue to teach the rest of the day.

         Colleagues who saw me that afternoon and the next day, commented on what an "interesting" day I had had.  Most of the building had heard her (she was that loud), and gossip traveled up and down the halls. They wanted to know how I was; I was not the one they should have been concerned with...  

         Just a few months ago, my friend said, "You know, I still have that piece from your skirt." A flood of emotions, stemming from that memory, came rushing in.  My friend saves all sorts of things, gluing them in her writing journal to channel her muse.

        I wonder what she thinks about when she looks at that scrap of fabric...


  1. That is SO sad on so many levels. I don't know how you could continue to teach after that. What a pitiful situation so many children live in, and some of the stupid "laws" we not protect them, but keep caring people, like you, from contacting them, because of "privacy" laws. It breaks my heart, as well. You and teachers like you, that see these kids on a daily basis, are surely the only stability in their lives. I admire you greatly.

  2. Reading this just gave me the chills. My kids have never come home with tales of their classmates being quite this bad, but close. Last year a little girl would lash out and turn her desk over if she didn't get her way (3rd grade). I have also watched a child go from calm to out of control mad in less than 30 seconds.

    As a parent I get so frustrated that the parents of these children haven't taught them that this behavior is not OK. As in the case of your little girl, there may very well be some psychological issues at the heart of the problem. Other times, I just think the children's behavior is a product of bad parenting. You and all of the other teachers are my heroes. I know I couldn't do it.

  3. Becky---It's tough, because when a child is usually in a chaotic, boundary-free environment, when they have to deal with order and consequences, they (usually) rail against the limitations and the expectations.

    Janel---Work friends and I say the same thing: We are not equipped to work with many of the problematic students of 2010. Many of them need psychological or psychiatric assistance. Unfortunately, we cannot have all-day counseling sessions, nor can we prescribe and dispense medicine.


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