Heart-Stopping Memories from the Teacher’s Desk
I am honored to be a part of the teaching profession. It includes a number of caring people who make a difference in lives daily. However, I’ve had a few adventures over the years I wasn’t told about when taking education courses.
These and other similar moments helped me develop and solidify my theory about dealing with aggression and violence in students. I don’t know if these ideas would work with adults, but I’ve had some positive outcomes with empowering their negative feelings while gently pointing out real or possible positive choices I see available to them.
For some stories herein it will be obvious. For others, I only share the dazzling and sometimes excruciating memories, being careful to honor the privacy of all concerned. No clear line can be drawn from actual people and events told herein.
A comment on students who may be similar to stories being told. Be it known that each and every child is worth caring for. In fact, although there is both humor and pathos in some of these events, there is also an underlying respect and honor for the child involved.
My prayers and hopes are that all who work with children humbly hold the same caring compassion for their charges.
What Can You Do With a Fingernail Clipper?
In the 60s and 70s it was the in thing to foster creativity by asking students to think of what an item could be used for other than its stated purpose. This theory was turned on its end by one of my students one bright day.
As a young and progressive teacher, I arranged the chairs in a circular shape so I could spend some time face to face with each child. One day a boy figured out a new and different use for this seating arrangement! He quietly crawled into the center of the circle and showed us all a new use for his mom’s fingernail clippers.
He zoomed around the unsuspecting feet, clipping every other foot just enough to cause pain and a screaming ruckus. When a buddy asked him later why he skipped every other foot, he showed his clear forethought. He said there was only enough time to do one foot each and still make it around the room before he’d get caught. (He added with some pride, that he was doing what we’d been studying in math: even numbers!)
From then on, I always left a space so I could get in and out of the seating circle quickly when needed. The class learned to quit calling him “Bit Off Toe” due to a partially missing big toe.
I learned to get him reading using The Penny Pitching Rhyme which I wrote along with the song Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog which was popular at the time. Oh, and I dealt with his excessive energy with an afternoon wrestling break, topped off with a snack. (Yup, I had to learn some wrestling rules, invest in a bell, learn to yell like a coach, etc!)
This was one of the first of many adjustments I had to make in learning to teach children, not subjects.
Taking the Gloves Off – One Finger at a Time
A student in a small school was going through a hard time and declared one fine day that he was going to leave the room to run in front of a car. As he was rushing to the door, I saw no choice but to tackle him and try to talk him down since this was before cell phones, 911, or even portable phones.
Luckily the class was busy with their assignments, so I stayed with the child while occasionally calling out encouragement and instructions to the class. I had things pretty calmed down, and was softly telling the boy, “Somehow we’ll work this out. We love you, and there’s always a way. I’ll be right here with you.”
For some strange reason, another student chose that particular moment to listen to me! He retorted, “I don’t love you” which started the desperate aggression to overflowing again.
I calmly sent a child outside to get my friend who was doing some landscaping work on the school grounds. When they returned, my friend quickly assessed the dangers and gently reached out to help me hold him down while I worked on talking the child down a second time.
In a split second the boy yanked at the worker’s hands, removing several fingers of the gloves instantly! For some reason I forbade the class to talk at that point. We stayed with the child till things really did calm down.
For some years, this precious boy made sure to bring me the makings of a very special Thanksgiving dinner. Several years later, I was privileged to attend his graduation from a training institute he attended after high school! Perhaps his lesson to me was that a little kindness goes a long way.
Advice for Teachers – Dodge When Stabbed!
One day I had a small group gathered round reading a story. It was not unusual for a child or two to move from their chair to be closer, so I did not react when one child did just that.
However, I had others working at their seats, so I looked up once in a while to glance around the room to be sure all was well. My aide was jumping up with a horrified look on her face. She seemed to be focusing on me. . .
I turned my head just in time to note that a freshly sharpened pencil was dashing toward my right temple.
I knew I didn’t have time to stop it so I acted like I didn’t see it and used an old magician’s trick of moving one of my hands quickly like I was doing something important. That distracted the child long enough that I reached with my other hand and took the pencil as it was about to crash into my face.
This taught me that along with being assertive, a little magic can go a long ways!
The neat thing about working with this student was he had finally actually started finding some enjoyment in reading. But I learned I was never completely safe in this profession, or in this life for that matter, so I might as well go on working to make learning fun.
Do I Need a Black Belt to Teach?
One afternoon I committed the impardonable with a sixth grader. I asked him to do an assignment he didn’t want to do. Teachers do things like that sometimes. . .
Later I found out he had a juvie record, but I didn’t know that at the time. He raised his voice and threw it across the room at me, “Mrs. Tague, I don’t think you realize I have a black belt in karate.” He stared confidently at me, sure that his threat would scare me.
A deathly quiet fell in the room while the students wondered how the drama would unfold, as it was clear to all that I had just been threatened.
Being one to improvise, I immediately started taking small deliberate steps toward him while saying, “I bet you don’t know I have a black belt in Tai Chi.” At that last word, I did a slow chop toward him, punctuating the slow Tai Chi movements I had been making as I moved toward him.
The silence was over as the class roared with laughter! The spell of fear was broken as the class returned to their tasks. Then I sat down with the Black Belt guy and we softly chatted. I told him it was ok to hate some work just like parents hate changing diapers but they still find a way to do it anyway. He did his work that day.
Perhaps he taught me that it was good to be assertive, yet doing it in a gently surprising way might be in order. Dealing with bullying behavior isn’t just about overpowering them; it may be partly about helping them find a way to show power effectively.
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Contact author for permission to use in print or online.