Well, I don’t know what to do.
It’s Saturday at last. Hurrah! I have some free time. That’s the great part.
I’m also kind of spinning out–very intense emotions or shutting down emotionally. And I don’t feel confident I know what helps, or what will make a difference for me. I don’t even really know what might be setting it off. Lots of feelings of worthlessness. What of the things I actually do when this happens help me? And why exactly are these feelings coming up so strongly now?
It suddenly crosses my mind—and maybe this is a helpful thought—that it has to do with paired experiences, opposite impressions. My mind is trying to sort out—rather than compartmentalize—cognitive dissonance.
I started teaching on Tuesday, and it turns out I have inherited a teaching load of students who have been repeatedly abandoned by temporary teachers. They had a permanent teacher take maternity leave after winter vacation, and then a gap filled by a substitute for a few weeks before a long-term replacement could be hired, and then a long-term replacement who left for a permanent position, and then another gap filled by yet another substitute. So, there are trust issues. And discipline issues.
I just watched the class for most of Tuesday while the previous sub taught, and on Wednesday I came at the kids pretty hard with basically the new regime. Which is basically that we are a class. When someone is talking, everyone is quiet and listens, because we don’t talk just to kill the silence. People talk to be heard. I gave them assigned seats. I made them sit in them. I put them in groups and made them talk to each other in very structured ways. I made it clear that there was a strong leader in the room, and I also think I made it clear I care about them. They did not like it.
I noticed who had the hardest time with the transition, the kids who didn’t seem to feel safe and seemed to find it difficult to enter the room or look at me, and I took extra time with them and worked on those relationships the most. I have a kid who has been identified as emotionally disturbed. He has an IEP. To be honest, I have had kids with worse behaviour in my class before. But anyway in this district someone took the time to give him some kind of help. He made some kind of disturbance just as I was coming in the room, and the substitute threw him out. On my first full day of teaching, I think he walked out, if I remember right. The next day, I gave him standards for something I can’t remember anymore. (I am sure I ought to be documenting all of this better.) I gave him the sentence, “I am a positive member of the class and my team.” He left out the word positive.
I am pretty sure it’s an attachment disorder, and the departure of a familiar district substitute reminded him of times when other people have left and he has not been safe. He made a disturbance to get the attention of the substitute so that he could be reminded that the substitute was there and watching him to make sure he was safe, and the substitute responded by rejecting him. When I began to teach, he felt unsafe and wanted control, and then he felt angry at having to surrender control. The first reaction to beginning to feel attachment can sometimes be anger, and what I saw this week from him was a lot of anger. And yet I think it probably also felt good to him to see that someone else was capable of asserting control and could maybe help him control his behaviour.
On Friday, he stayed in his seat and he mostly participated appropriately, despite doing a lot to disrupt the class. He is in my second period class, and in fourth period, he came back. Probably, because he had begun to experience feelings of attachment and he wanted to check whether I was still there.
He asked if he could stay in the class and I told him he had already sat through one period of torture with me. I don’t think he wanted another hour of it. So I protected his pride and did not directly reject him. I came to the door and asked him something—how is he or something—and offered my hand to shake or give a high five. He couldn’t quite touch it, but he made the motion of it.
My goal with him is to attune to him enough that he feels an attachment, so that there is a reason for him to start trying to control his behaviour. In the past, there has been no reason to—no one seemed to care about him, why should he care about someone else? Why take in someone’s perspective if they can’t take in yours?
But getting back to my feelings today, I have been acting all week like I matter. I have been setting a lot of boundaries very assertively. I was very, very firm about a lot of things. And I think I have also put out my care and concern for the students, which I think translates into an equation for me that everyone matters and can be where they are. The ED kid can be where he is, and I can be where I am, and we are all just going to try our best. And all week I acted like that. I spoke like that. I told them we are going to be a disciplined class, because then it becomes clearer what is happening and what is expected and those clear expectations allow everyone be successful, and by Friday, when most of them stopped fighting the change, they began to see that. They began to see they had (I hope) a strong leader who cared about them as individuals.
A lot of times in school, I think students see strong leaders who don’t really respond to students and are merely imposing their own will because they can. I think they began to see a strong leader who was balancing the needs of 30 or 35 different people.
If they matter, I matter, don’t I?
I guess I am just working it out.