Once upon a time there were two boys. And they drove me crazy. I was a creative and innovative teacher. I kept my annoying students in my room and dealt out consequences that fit the crime. I didn’t send people to the office. I didn’t write up reports on every little thing. I’m a psychologist for heaven’s sake, and I started off as a substance abuse counselor working with high risk youth. The average high school student rarely could flummox me.
No hats was a school policy, for example. So students who wore hats pulled low over their eyes got their hats confiscated in my room. “No other teacher enforces that rule.” “That’s nice, give me your hat.” They could earn them back with a list of three annotated references explaining why hats should not be worn indoors. They, and I frankly, learned a great deal about the history of hats. I kept the notes so that they couldn’t use the same ones twice. Imagine the look on their face. “Nope. You used that one last time and the second one the time before that.” It was beautiful. Hats would come off as they stepped through the doorway. My Southern Gramma would’ve been so proud.
Another favorite of mine was to hand out nail polish remover to people writing on the desks in ink, or cleaning spray for pencils, and make them go around and clean all of the Junior Rembrandts off of every single desk. Both smell. The other students complain and give the person crap. It is a good consequence. I had few repeat offenders. Plus, when they finish, I privately chatted with them and encouraged them to bring a sketch pad. Some people concentrate better when doodling. I just didn’t want it on the desks. My room was a shared space with the community auditorium. No one wants to sit down to watch a show and see a Sophomore’s version of male anatomy on a seat.
The only time I “Wrote Someone Up” – which translates to detention – was for someone who was really late without a good excuse. Heck, I’d take a bad excuse if the story was good enough. Or if they showed up with a pass from the office or another teacher. What I wouldn’t take was class disruptions. And late people inevitably disrupted. They had to stop me mid-introduction to topic, discussion and assignment explanation. Grr. I tried to be patient. Big class disruptions like punching something, throwing things and the like – that’s where I drew the line and got the administrators involved.
I was not equipped to handle those. Well, technically I was in some respects, I had the training in my earlier career, but I had the safety of 20+ other students to worry about and that is much more important. If it got physical they went to the office. The first thing this accomplished is that they no longer had an audience. Removing them from the room where everyone else can see them usually goes a long way towards defusing the problem. The second thing it did, is establish order so the rest of the class could get back to work reasonably soon. Sometimes I spent a few minutes processing and making sure everyone was okay, but getting the transgressor out of the room eased the chaos and things settled quickly.
Now, I’m no saint. I didn’t always handle things the right way the first time. There were nights I went home and lay awake agonizing over how I said something or what I should have done differently. And I had occasions when I went back, and in front of the entire class, apologized for my transgressions, explained what I should have done and made things right with my student. Usually it was not a big thing. In 3 years as a counselor, 1 as a sub, 2 as an aide at an alternative school and finally 12 as a high school teacher I only lost my temper 5 – only the fingers on one hand, mind you – times.
But that fifth one was a doozy. Two freshman boys. One of whom was the son of a friend of mine – known her since high school. She’d had it rough raising him and his brother by herself. I tried to take that into account whenever he did something stupid in my drama class. Not to excuse him for it, rather to help myself be compassionate as I meted out consequences again and again. But he was ALWAYS doing something. Small stuff mostly.
Things you think are common sense until you find yourself saying them out loud to a 14 year old boy. Leaving his script on his seat when we went to the stage for blocking. “Where’s your script?” “Back in the room.” “It is required for this activity. Which I said three times as we were leaving the room.” Stage manager gets sent for it because I knew if I sent him I’d never see him again. Showing up several minutes later than everyone else coming from the green room. “Oh, I was in the bathroom.” “I need to know beforehand. No more bathroom trips this week.” Constantly with the small irritating stuff. And his buddy was always with him. In other words, not with the rest of us.
I used to divide my drama class into teams once we got into production mode. Each group was under the direction of one of the advanced students… Group in the scene shop working on sets, group on stage working on drops, group in the green room running lines, group in the trap room moving props and furniture to the freight elevator. Then I’d spend the 60-90 minutes roving from group to group, checking in with each, making sure no one needed anything, pointing out flaws that needed attention, that sort of thing. Everyone knew – because we had been doing it for 12-15 weeks at the point – that the last 10 minutes of class were reserved for feedback. They were responsible for being in the classroom on time. Not showing up was an automatic minus 5 (half of the daily points) to their score.
In the room, in a circle. The two boys are missing. We start without them. Again. Each person tells what they did that period, how much effort they put in and what score on a 1 to 10 scale they deserve. Rest of class gives feedback about whether or not person really deserves that score. Mark in gradebook. Next person. We are halfway through the class when the Auditorium Technician shows up with one collar in each fist. Wearing the collars of those shirts? My missing students. Oh yeah. The normally imperturbable A.T. was very, very angry. I hand over the grade book to a fourth year drama student and the four of us adjourn to my office.
Our A.T. tells me they were banging on the grand piano at the start of class. He found them, stopped them and sent them back to me. Huh. Interesting. They never found me. Imagine that.
Next time he ran across them they were racing wheeled things up and down the trap room. Same deal. Imagine my surprise that I am so hard to find. My loop is so well known that the office aides who have never taken drama know how to track me down.
Comes back through trap room just now. They were hanging from the steam pipes and swinging around like wild monkeys. I thank him politely, see him out, close the soundproofed door of my office, pull down the drape and… I’m pretty sure I didn’t cuss. I probably used words like irresponsible, aggravating, dangerous. Yet, I have absolutely no idea what I actually said. When I said I lost my temper – that is just it. Usually if I am angry, I still have control over what I say.
This time… I completely and utterly lost my temper. And apparently the soundproofing in the choral director’s office (which was my assigned room at the time) could not withstand my angry, embarrassed, well supported volume. (In addition to teaching drama, I play the trombone. I can make myself heard.) And it seems the drape was crooked because the rest of the class could see all of me chewing them out. Couldn’t see the two freshman boys. Just me.
Apparently I was “Kind of scary.” I do know that I told the boys to report directly to the Assistant Principal because I got a call from him asking what was going on almost immediately. They must have run to get to him that fast. And for safety reasons they were removed from drama class. Thank all the gods and little fishies.
The rest of the class was pretty meek the next day. And at first I didn’t know why. This class was mostly freshman and by last period they were normally pinging off the walls. Great energy for drama class. And in my mind, that incident was a lifetime ago and completely gone and done. Someone finally told me that they’d heard and seen the whole thing. “Was I okay?” “Of course.” “Were they in trouble?” “No. Why? Are you asking these things? What’s going on?” The thing is… I blow up and then I’m done. Festering and holding it in is what causes me anxiety and irritability. But if I let it out, I’m fine in seconds.
Granted I don’t do so in such an explosive manner usually. Generally I take the time to think through what I’m going to say before I start. But, I had messed up and scared my good kids. They didn’t know that about me. This is the class I looked forward to every day because we could let loose and be creative together. They were anxious and it was my fault. I responded to the furtive glances and fearful body language by explaining “Yeah, we’re all good. The boys have been transferred out of this class. I’m really sorry you had to see and hear that. I hope by now you know that’s not how I do things. Let’s do some improv to warm up.”
Then I was as silly and goofy and relaxed as I had initially felt and pretty soon they were too. Legend has it that incoming eighth graders got told that story. I don’t know. It’s probably true. Thespians are as bad as sailors about gossiping and embellishing tall tales. But my drama class the next year started off very well behaved, so maybe it was true. They eventually found their spirit and were as thoroughly enjoyable as all the years I was blessed to teach Drama – until the day my health forced me to stop teaching live in a classroom every day. Another story for a grayer day. As for those boys…
I don’t recommend a temper tantrum as a disciplinary measure. It is definitely not the best way to get the point across. There is, however, a part of me that wonders if those boys maybe in some small way learned their lesson that time. Because the son of my friend and his buddy never were allowed back in drama. They came and asked and I told them no. They tried to get into Welding, that teacher asked me why they weren’t in my class anymore and then he also said no. They ended up in an elective class that was all correspondence under the supervision of the in-school suspension lady. Rumor has it she was “mean”.
I think B.F. Skinner would have approved.