Friday, January 13, 2012

A CAT FIGHT Followed by a Teachable Moment

After a very long hiatus, I am back to writing. After my epic adventure to South America, I landed a job as an Reading Intervention and English teacher in Santa Ana. The beginning of the year has been a whirlwind of ups and downs to say the least. Regardless of the bad days I've experienced working in an inner city school I still love my job and never see myself going back to an office job or serving ever again. I have found my calling as an educator.
That being said, I have had a recent epiphany. Yesterday I tried to prevent a cat fight and got decked in the process. These two girls had had altercations in the past, but fortunately I was able to prevent physical violence. Yesterday, however, was not the case. It started off as one of the best teaching days I've had to date. My 1st period Sheltered Sophomore English class just started a poetry unit and was starting to understand how to analyze a poem. I am a traveling teacher and after a 3 week winter hiatus I started my 1st period in the new improved building that just opened. My new classroom I call home for one hour a day has floor to ceiling windows, a smartboard, and all the room a teacher could ever ask for. I even have the luxury of a microphone even though I certainly don't need one for this particular class.
My 3rd and 4th period READ 180 block was going swimmingly. I have my students for 127 minutes during which time we have whole group instruction, then split up into 3 groups where the students rotate between silent reading, computer software skills and small group instruction. It's a very new program as we were 14 weeks into the semester before we got the program going. The students are still learning how to rotate and how to read and work independently. A lot of days, it feels likes I'm herding cats but yesterday but an exception. My students were doing so well. I was giving them all gold stars including C and J who have shown marked improvement since the beginning of the year. C even commented that she was a 'scholar' yesterday and I was so proud of both her and J.
They say things can turn in an instant and yesterday is proof of this energetic phenomenon. J made a comment to C and all of the sudden 4th period turned into a maelstrom of cussing and unbridled teenage rage. Since J was the instigator I started walking her outside to let her cool off. Before we could reach the door, she lunged over me in a desperate attempt to make violent contact with C clocking me in
the jaw in the process.

All of the sudden I was in the middle of a full on cat fight, complete with claws and a deathgrip hair pulling contest. There was nothing I could do to pull them off one another as I was pushed and pulled in the middle of my classroom that had been peaceful and jovial not even 30 seconds before. The boys came to the rescue striving to get the girls apart as I ran out into the hall to find help. I found an office aide as I looked down the hall to see the Assistant Principal monitoring 1st Lunch. In my panic, I yelled, "Go get him....Go get him!!!!!!!" and promptly rushed back inside. The fight had started to subside as I separated the heated adolescents as best I could. The AP took Cynthia then returned for Jazmin as I wrote out referrals for both of them. I was devestated that these girls had shown such great improvement in both their attitudes and academic achievement only to throw it away over a petty misunderstanding.
The show must go on so I returned to teaching by taking deep deep yoga breaths to return myself to sanity. I taught the rest of the period but I'm pretty sure we were all still in shock....
Luckily, the end of this period was also the beginning of lunch but I had to go write an incident report in the discipline office. After calling my boyfriend and my friend who is a yoga teacher to do a quick meditation with me, I headed down to the office. I quickly wrote as the girls sat on either side of the office looking scared and childlike. When I finished, Jazmin handed me back her classroom folder complete with its 2 gold stars she had earned for the day. She whisped, "I'm sorry I hit you Miss Nightingale" as I retreated. On the way down the hall, I ran into Mr. Bustard, another English teacher and fellow kama'aina (former resident of Oahu, Hawai'i). He commiserated with me, gave me a cookie, and told me a similar story, except in his case one of his male gang member students tried to beat him up on purpose. I went back to my classroom barely ready to face my last class of the day...the dreaded 5th and 6th period block of READ 180.
Now, I have learned many classroom management techniques in my credential program and from fellow educators but nothing could prepare me for my last block of the day. The students' hearts are in the right place for the most part but the lack of respect for authority is appalling. I took my three worst offenders from this class aside before the class and told them their was an incident in one of my other classes and I would really appreciate if they were on their best behavior. They all agreed to do their very best and shook my hand.
Well, I should have had them sign a contract too because the next two hours ended up being the most horrific 2 hours of my life. The students would not cooperate in any way, shape or form. Perhaps it was a combination of my fragile state and their hyper state but yesterday we did not all....The end of the day didn't come soon enough as I left, dejected and feeling beaten.
Luckily, that evening was my first night back at Sun Salute Yoga. I taught a powerful and cleansing Yoga Sculpt class that made me feel better. Afterwards, I went to my boyfriend Tom's house where Tom and his roommate Monica (who played matchmaker for us) listened to my animated story, empathized with me and told me their biggest fight dramas. I felt so much better and I was happy to have such wonderful friends in my corner.
Today was a much better day. Second period is my prep period, and being a Friday pep rally I was asked to sub a class. To my great pleasure, I was asked to substitute dance. This ended up meaning taking role, then watching two consecutive pep rallies. What a treat! My good friend Jeanne brought me coffee for the first rally and I was able to 'talk story' with the other teachers while we watched the students dance and sing in a Country Western themed gym.
Third and fourth period block was a treat because I able to talk to my students about controlling their reactions to their emotions; a lesson that was imperative after the incident that happened yesterday. I told them that whatever energy they give out to the world they get back. Their journal today was this: "How do you control your emotions? Think about a time that you took a step back from a situation before speaking or acting. Now compare that with a time that you acted or spoke right away without thinking or counting to ten. Now, which one had a more favorable outcome?" After we discussed and wrote about this I had them close their eyes and visualize themselves in front of their enemy. "Your enemy is screaming at you and telling youthe absolute worst things they could possibly tell you. Now imagine you are in your enemies shoes. Perhaps their mom yelled at them this morning and their boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them. Remember we are all going through something. We are all human and we all have bad days. The important thing to do when we have a reaction is to acknowledge it, take a deep breath and separate ourselves from the situation by counting to 10 or even 100 like Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested. After this we are able to make sane and rational decisions that don't hurt others and ourselves." My students told me how they noticed that I was breathing deeply after the incident yesterday. I told them about yoga. Today my students showed me that every day is a new day and every moment holds the possibility of learning something new about ourselves and others.
Instead of 5th and 6th block today I had a meeting for READ 180 where we learned how to access the software and make reports to truly help our students. It was a wonderful learning experience. I asked Rosie if she would help the substitutes since I knew from prior experience that the students would destroy the classroom. She agreed. After school, she and I had a long talk. She told me how difficult my students were even for a veteran teacher and another credentialed teacher in the room. She also told me she would HELP me every day until they learned the rotations and how to behave in the classroom. We called a couple parents of students who need behavioral interventions the most and set up meetings for next week. Rosie made me fee like I have support and I am so grateful to have that because all I want to do is teach my students...not herd cats.
Again, today showed me how everything can change in an instant. I prayed for help for my class and my prayers were answered. Thank you Rosie! Stay tuned to find out how the rest of the rest of this teaching saga unfolds!

1 comment:

  1. Claire,

    I'm really impressed you kept your cool on this one. It sounds like you handled this in the most caring and empathetic way possible and you students will most definitely respect that. You ARE a great teacher and I'm glad you still feel like you are learning every day. I miss you and wish you could give me pointers on some of my more rambunctious kids! Hugs and kokos!