The entire class voted on where our monthly field trip was going to be. It was unanimous; all thirteen students decided that roller-skating was what they wanted to do. A day of skating around the rink, falling, laughing and enjoying time away from school sounded perfect to them. I was excited, for some of my students this was going to be their first time on skates. I had some tricks and techniques up my sleeve to help them get around the rink a couple of times without falling every few seconds. I couldn’t wait.
After weeks of anticipation and planning for this trip, the day finally arrived. We got in the school van, turned up the country music and off we went. All of the students started singing along to a Rascal Flatts song, and it was a great moment. Everyone was happy.
The students brought money for the roller skate rental, drinks and snacks for the day. They were in charge of checking out the skates and putting them on without assistance. So far so good, all but three students had their skates on and were ready for some fun.
As I was walking up to the counter to get my skates, I heard one of my students say, “F@*k you as#h@le, I want rollerblades.” I stopped, looked over and asked my student what the problem was. She said, “This fu*#ing idiot will not give me rollerblades because I don’t have enough money.” I took a deep breath and in a calm voice said, “We are only checking out roller skates today, not rollerblades. We talked about this all week. Rollerblades cost too much.” She interrupted me and said, “Stupid B%t@h teacher, I don’t care what you said I want rollerblades. If I can’t have rollerblades, then I’m leaving.”
I stood there for a few seconds and just looked at her, I wasn’t sure what to say or do. I was frozen; I didn’t plan for this type of behavior on a field trip especially from this particular student. She was new to our class, arrived a few weeks back but was an angel in the classroom. She was well behaved and had ZERO behaviors before this… what was going on?
In a firm voice, I told her that she was using inappropriate language and was being disrespectful to the employee. I told her to apologize and sit with me at a table so we could talk. She turned to me and said, “No I will not sit with you, and I want my money back.” I said, “You can’t have your money back until we talk about this.”
She then started walking away from me, heading for the front door. I told my staff members to watch the rest of the students and mentioned what was going on. As I did this, the student bolted out the door. I ran outside to see where she went. She was already running across the street into oncoming traffic. I didn’t want to make matters worse, so I stopped and just watched where she was going. I was afraid that if I chased her she would get hit by a car or just keep running from me.
I stood there for a moment; she stopped, turned around and stared at me. I motioned for her to come back. She just stood there with an evil look on her face. I decided that I needed help; I couldn’t do this alone. I went inside to have one of my staff members come out to help me. As I walked inside looking for some help, I saw the front doors swing open, and the student came running in. She was screaming some inappropriate things and was coming toward me. She started swinging at me, her fists curled up, and she said she was going to, “Beat me down until I bleed.”
I immediately turned my back to her, and she punched me several times in the head and back. My staff members intervened by pulling her off of me. They had to restrain her on the floor because she was not calming down. She continued to hit, punch and spit at us. We eventually got her into the van and drove back to school where she was safe.
This was one of the scariest moments in my teaching career. Truth be told, I was paranoid to have her back in my classroom, afraid of what she would do. Days later, she apologized. She said, “I just simply wanted my money back. That was all the money I had. I’m sorry for punching you. I should have found another way to express my feelings. Please let me back in your class, I will never hurt you again.” I accepted her apology and continued to teach her without judgment or fear. That was the last time she acted aggressively toward me.
That student, and that situation taught me an important lesson in both teaching and life. The need to communicate is in all of us. However, take away the ability to communicate and the message that person is trying to convey comes out quite differently. In the case of my student, she could communicate just fine using words… most of the time.
For most of us, when a significant change in emotions occurs over a short period of time, our normal communication pattern is interrupted. For my student, she couldn’t get the correct words out to express her feeling of anger for the situation, so she automatically resorted to a different means… outward aggression.
Since the time at the roller rink, I’ve encountered a tremendous amount of similar situations. Knowing what the primary cause is, and what the outcome COULD be, today my only focus in the heat of the moment is helping the student express their feelings through words, not aggression.
-Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.