Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 14 2012

Defiance and Deep Breaths

One of our seventh grade boys has started to blatantly and publicly defy me. He refused to follow my directions when I was covering his class, and the other day he yelled, “NO! I’m not listening to YOU!” at me in front of a huge group of students. (That’s despite the fact that I had super-privately approached him and whispered an instruction in his ear.) We used to have a good relationship, but there’s so much going on in his home life that I haven’t even been able to draw on that to stop him.


My job depends upon me being respected by the students. There’s sort of a natural fear of the position, and all I have to do is not lose that. Angry kids occasionally try to defy me in the privacy of the office, but I go out of my way to make sure they don’t get opportunities to fight with me in front of other students. In all my public interactions with kids, I’m carefully navigating to make sure I’m being firm without putting anyone in a position where they have to save face. The last thing I need is for someone to set┬áprecedent┬áthat it’s okay to not be afraid of me.


But this kid is lashing out without provocation, and none of my normal tactics are stopping him. I’m usually good at keeping my emotions out of discipline, but this undermines me when my position can’t afford to be undermined. It gets me really riled up. It’s all I can do to look unfazed in front of the students, while in my head I have to constantly remind myself to take deep breaths and remember that I can’t just suspend him every time he opens his mouth.


I want the consequence to be higher for being wildly disrespectful to an administrator. I so, so rarely have this emotional reaction that I just want to be able to roll with it when it happens. But I also realize that’s just my pride speaking. It would send really terrible messages to everyone if I suspended kids who were rude to me but just gave a referral to kids who did the same thing to a teacher. If anything, the consequence should probably be worse when a teacher is involved, since they’re the ones who have to control the kid in a classroom full of students every day. I’m fully aware of that, and I force myself to remember it when I finally get the kid into the office and don’t do more than referral paperwork and a lot of yelling. But really, I just want to do everything in my power to make it stop. What if the whole school started defying me like this? I’m going to have nightmares.


One Response

  1. Margaret

    You yell? Really? While giving a referral? Doesn’t sound like a best practice to me. While I empathize with all the emotions and sentiments written here, it might be better to keep a firm-you’re-not-anything-I-haven’t-seen-before-I-just-want-to-help-you voice. In my experience we as humans go into defense mode or shut off when yelled at or approached in a threatening and degrading manner.

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