When I say, “take down,” I mean, “got him to shut down,” which of course is never the goal in a classroom. It shouldn’t be, anyway – even if the kid is screwing around when the teacher is trying to get stuff done.
But, in my first year of teaching, when it was me and a class of 16 juniors, 11 of them football players who were a minimum of 6 inches taller than me, who hated English and who refused to do much more than sleep in my class, I stooped to a pretty low level.
I threw a eraser, completely filled with chalkdust, at a student who would not stop talking his way through my class.
I know that fixing incorrect sentences on the board is not engaging. I wasn’t savvy enough during that first year to figure out a better way of doing it, as I was prepping for three classes a day. I was constantly exhausted. I was running myself into the ground. I was trying to be a good teacher.
And somewhere in all of that, I forgot to treat this student like the human being he was. Instead, I made him the butt of my joke.
I was writing on the board with my back to my class I heard Derek behind me, chatting it up. I turn around. “Derek, please stop talking.” He stops, I turn around and write, and he starts again. “Derek. Stop.” I look at him directly. He looks back, silent. A few minutes go by while I am leading this lesson – one that even I don’t find interesting. My back is to the class and I am writing, and I hear him again. He’s in the front row. He’s wearing his football shirt for the big game that night. With my back to him, I reach slowly for the eraser, pivot quickly and flip it at him. It lands, “THWOCK!” square on his chest. Huge white mark on his jersey. Chalkdust in the air and on his desk.
The class in hysterics. His football buddies look impressed at my aim. I’m impressed at my aim. Derek is shooting me daggers. I look back at him, and quietly say, “I asked you to be quiet.” I move on with the lesson. Enough.
Derek didn’t talk to me for the rest of that week, and after that he never really forgave me. He shouldn’t have forgiven me, really – I stooped to his level, and acted like someone who just wanted to gain revenge, not respect. If he didn’t already hate English, he really hated it now. And he was not about to allow me to show him differently.
I had an opportunity that day to treat Derek with respect and to try and engage him. I was a different person then, a teacher who was trying to survive, who felt threatened by the power dynamic and who struggled daily with discipline and classroom management. I bragged about my aim to enough people before I realized that what I had done was bigger and more damaging than throwing that eraser. I don’t necessarily excuse myself from the responsibility of that incident, but I am grateful that I grew out of that phase.
It’s really hard to be the bigger person when you don’t feel like you deserve it; I was scared, threatened and insecure enough to shut down a student to maintain my stance. Interestingly enough, my classroom management and discipline soared when I became more secure in my ability to teach – when I could present engaging and relevant material.
Derek taught me a ton that day, even though he didn’t know it. Have you ever had a student teach you an invaluable lesson?