*Written about 6 months ago.
Today I cried.
Now, that is nothing new… I cry all the time. I cry when I see a cute kid and a puppy playing in the park. I cried when I got Ds in school, I cried when I got As. I cry when I forget to say “I love you” to my best friend when we get off the phone.
But today was a little different. This wasn’t me crying because my gremlins were acting up and I had first-year-teacher anxiety about how the fuck to go on. This wasn’t because I got anxious in my PTSD type of way and had to excuse myself gracefully (or not so gracefully). This wasn’t because my boss criticized me or because I witnessed bullying or a fight.
Today I didn’t just cry. Today I sobbed. No, I wailed. No… I bawled. I blubbered and lamented and I wept.
Today a student went out of his way to make me feel unsafe and uncared for. He made loud noises and screamed in my ear and laughed every time I winced, jumped, or showed fear or anxiety. I reminded him and the whole class that they know loud noises put me in a place where I can’t be a good teacher. He said he didn’t care.
I was about to do a “normal” cry and walked out of the room (fun fact: later that day my co-teacher told me that other students reprimanded him- saying things like “you know what you was doing upset her, man, why’d you keep doing it?” <3).
I came back to the room and continued teaching. I was high-functioning at its fucking finest. I was holding back tears and a panic attack with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. I was stifling my emotions with a white board and a powerpoint.
But that’s not why I wept. I did not bawl because this student (this angry, angry darling) tried to upset me. I did not sob uncontrollably because he decided today was the day he took his anger out on me.
We stumbled through the day and did not manage to learn anything (who can with a toxic environment that pervades even the kindest, gentlest of students??). At one point this dear, angry babe walked out of the room in frustration. A natural consequence at our school is that kiddos who “leave space,” as it is called, are not invited to participate in our end-of-day co-ed recess.
Well….at the end of the day I stood at the door after my other boys had gone and he asked me why he couldn’t go. Knowing his penchant for walking out/doing whatever the fuck he wants, I chose to remain at the door and reminded him that leaving space = no recess. He got mad. Like, really mad.
He said words so quickly I didn’t have time to be hurt or insulted.
But after…after the words were tapped he had nothing else. He had nothing but his body. And he beat the door, and the window, and he ripped my posters off the walls. He threw shit across the room. He broke my cabinet lock and threw a chair. Eventually, he kept kicking the window by the door and punching the wall so hard that I feared for his knuckles’ welfare.
He had nothing left but the emotions in his body. His anger, fear, confusion, anxiety…it was all apparent on his face. And he began to cry. The words ran out. His tears said it all. This beautiful child who tried so hard to hurt me that day. The kiddo who was punching walls was so hurt and confused inside that all he could do was cry and scream and hit.
That shit right there is why I wept. I can talk down a kid that wants to fight. I can leave space for a sad kid to talk or not talk about why he is sad. I can do so many things but what I can’t do is begin to imagine how to help a child through the emotional tangles of adolescence? How do you see a child so full of pain and help? How can you help, when now they’re hitting you?
I told him over and over again that he was okay. He was safe. He was loved. He pushed me out of the way and darted out of the room.
And I crumpled to the floor. His face, so full of pain, danced around behind my closed eyelids.
I wept for his pain. For the firey burning that is puberty and the feelings, so intense, so wibbly wobbly.
Today I cried. I cried because for the first time I looked at a student in pain and had no idea how to help him. And I don’t know how to deal with this.
P.S.- That student has since become one I can understand and tap into. A student I can connect with and give space to. It just took this experience (and a couple similar ones) to really allow us to learn how the other communicates. We began to read one another and respond in ways necessary to continue the equilibrium in the classroom. His personality shined in new, bright ways when he felt trusted and responsible for his learning. I had the opportunity to punish him for the behaviors of that day but instead I decided to try and understand him, and that is what bridged our connection and forged our strong relationship.
He cried when I told him I wouldn’t be returning to school next year.
Wow…full circle, huh?