Somebody Has to Do It


Today I was a biologist, psychologist, mediator, conflict resolver…

During my last period of the day, drama happened. The pants one of my male students was wearing fell a little lower than they should have. While he accidentally resembled a stereotypical plumber, a couple of girls looked that way and laughed. The boy got pissed off.

Really pissed off. He asked to go to the Guidance office. I told him no, since he’s wanted to leave class or not work with people during previous classes. I told him he couldn’t just escape every time he wanted to get out of work or every time someone mildly annoyed him.

He sat in his chair and fumed. He shredded a wooden pencil while he fumed.

One of his peers was trying to talk to him. The student asked what was wrong and why was he so upset. It wasn’t helping.

The student sat in his chair and fumed, occasionally lobbing caustic comments over his shoulder to the girls and to the person trying to calm him.

I could feel the tension building, and I worried he might blow.

I overheard him grumble that someone in the Guidance office told him he could leave class if he got upset. Once I heard that, I told him I’d write him a pass. When I did, he didn’t move. He sat and continued to fume and work on that pencil. 

I told him the pass was no longer an option, it was a demand. Go to the Guidance office, or I would call an Assistant Principal to come escort him.

He took the pass and left the room.

The situation diffused for a bit. I continued circulating, helping students with the activity they were working on.

Eventually he came back. At first he seemed stiff. I kept circulating and gave him some space. He fell into working with his group again.

After awhile, I asked him to join me in the hall. I asked him to tell me what was going on.

He told me the girls started laughing at his pants situation, but then they kept laughing. This is what made him mad. He said even after he returned from Guidance, he could still hear them talking about it. 

I told him I’d address it with the people in question. I also told him if he felt angry in the future he could feel free to step out of the room for a few minutes to calm down. I apologized for not letting him go to Guidance at first, but I didn’t know about his agreement with Guidance. After we talked about the incident, he asked about getting his grades up in the class.

After I spoke with him, I started calling the other folks involved in the hallway. I asked their sides of the story. They admitted to laughing at the fallen pants, but that after the initial laugh they stopped.

Not sure what really happened, so I talked to them about bullying. I asked that next time they see something like low pants (or a booger in the nose) they instead think how they’d feel if they were in that situation. How would they want to be treated? Maybe they’d want someone to discreetly say something to let them know instead of laughing.

I tried to make it clear that no one was in trouble, since I didn’t experience the entire incident and didn’t know the full extent of what happened. I wanted to talk to see what was going on and to try to clear the air. I emphasized that I want everyone to feel safe in my classroom: the student with the pants and them. I want everyone to feel comfortable to answer questions and offer feedback without fear of being mocked or ridiculed. They seemed to get it and to appreciate how I was handling it.

At the end of the day, there didn’t seem to be any hard feelings. All of the students were talking to each other at the end of class.

I’m hoping my conversations stick, and I don’t continue to have problems in class.

I wanted to write about this incident for a few reasons:

  1. While I was talking to students in the hallway (five of them plus the initial student), I wasn’t teaching. (Fortunately that class is pretty good. As I popped in and out, students were mostly on task. And I watched them through the window in the door.)
  2. This was something I had to deal with immediately. If I’d waited, things would either escalate or I’d be dealing with the same thing in future classes.
  3. If my class environment gets ugly, I can’t teach effectively.

In other words, dealing with things like this is part of my job.  There are so many facets to the job of teaching. Some folks have the mentality that it’s easy, but no. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had quite a lot of jobs.

If it was just teaching, easy peasy. Let’s talk about cool science stuff!

But we’re also dealing with huge volumes of pre-adults. We’re dealing with huge volumes of adults. We’re dealing with a lack of resources in our classrooms and in our pocket books.

Some media sources are starting to fight back against the idea that all of education’s issues are the teachers’ fault. But that hasn’t trickled to the politicians and administrators. We still get pressure to teach bell to bell.

But sometimes stuff like this comes up. And it’s a learning lesson too.

Today, I hope those students involved with this incident walk away with something else. And I hope while the incident itself was negative, they took something positive away from it. And I hope I played a role in that.

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