She came into the office screaming in fury, fresh out of a furniture-flipping fit she’d thrown after being marked tardy to class. She sat in my office and ranted about all the injustices of the world, making her story bigger and bigger as she talked. She went on and on and on…while I stared at my computer, studiously ignoring her and getting work done. Every now and then, I gave a calm, “The direction was for you to stay in that chair” or, “You cannot call your dad right now.”
I have become very good at tuning out noise around me. I have learned that the only way to end a temper tantrum is to let it run its course and not feed it. I have stopped trying to argue or reason with the angry adolescent brain.
She realized I was ignoring her and directed all her energy into trying to rile me up. She started talking about how much she hates me and how rude I am and how everyone thinks I’m mean. When that didn’t work, she started describing the six schools she went to last year and how bad the kids were and how bad she was. Finally, she just deteriorated into yelling, “I hate this school! I want to leave! I have anger management problems, so just expel me now! Go ahead, expel me! EXPEL ME!!”
When she took a breath, I used my most neutral voice to say, “I’m not expelling you. I suspended you. Please start your suspension assignment.” And then I walked out of the room and let her rant and rave in peace.
By the end of the day, the girl was calm. She’s relatively new to our school, and wanted to know if there were “other kids as bad as me” here. I reassured her that there was nothing wrong with her, and then her eyes lit up. “Does this school really just take bad kids and keep them? You just let them stay here and teach them to be good and get them ready for college? Do you think I can go to college?” (We need to get this girl into promotional materials, now.)
Then she said, “Miss, I’ve got something to say. I have to apologize to you. I was really rude and I should never have done that. I’m really sorry.” Unprompted and so sincere.
Some people tell me that I need to be meaner/tougher/angrier with kids. These are people who believe that you can get long-term improvements by scaring kids into behaving, but I am not one of those people. I give firm consequences without fail, but I rarely raise my voice. I think there is something valuable about modeling good anger management, and I think there is something deeply meaningful to kids when you keep loving them (though not necessarily liking them) through a big mistake. If I listen to those people, what would I have done differently? Screamed at her until she fake apologized? I asked this girl later what she would have done if I’d yelled at her when she was angry. She said, “Honestly? I would definitely have fought you.”