I was not at my best today. I feel like I have been yelling a lot lately and feeling frustrated often. The number of students in my class has increased. It is not a totally unmanageable number-8, sometimes 9 students- I think it has more to do with the age of the students and all of the adults abilities to tolerate their behavior.
I think we forget they have a disability. We start to react when one student is endlessly talking as if they are the star of a show. Another decides they need…something I haven’t figured out yet…and jumps up on their desk or on the small group table. The one student who literally will not stop talking hisses like a cat at you or mockingly repeats your words when you ask them to stop talking. They also begin their litany of things and people they hate including school and you. When you move towards the one jumping on the table they run from you laughing so you decide ignoring them and reinforcing others may be the answer. No, they then begin to curse at their peers, flip them off and tell them they suck their mom’s pussy. Yup. That’s a six year old talking.
And that is only two of the 8 students in the room at that moment. One has decided to leave the room because you asked them to read a few leveled readers to themselves for 10 minutes. The other adult has to follow them so you are left alone with 7 students, two of whom clearly need 1:1 support right now. You can’t really call for support because you know every engagement dean is engaged with a school full of kids who need help at that moment. The behavior you can’t get under control begins to feel overwhelming to the point that you begin to raise your voice in frustration that no one will listen.
The other adult returns with the student who was protesting reading and by now it is time for recess. Students begin to get ready but the one who was climbing on tables (you finally have him seated at his desk fully supported by you) begins to tell other students that they suck pussy and your frustration grows.
You call their mother.
No answer but while you stand holding the student’s hand leaving a message another student stands by you waiting for help with some aspect of dressing themselves which escalates the student whose hand you are holding and they begin to fight. You hang up the phone to turn to the entire class and loudly announce that there are other adults in the classroom and that when you are on the phone or speaking to someone they can easily ask another adult for help, “It does NOT always need to be me!”
Yes, today was frustrating.
And I think I forgot that I was working with students who have a disability and are not going to all of a sudden start listening and doing their student jobs.
There was a video posted on Facebook this weekend that made me think of my students. The man in the video has this bike that is rigged so that when you turn the handlebars left the bike goes right. Turn the handlebars right and the bike goes left. He demonstrates how this bike is impossible to ride. He can’t do it and neither can any of the people around the world he challenges to ride it. He explains that his brain can’t switch to how this bike operates but he decides he will teach himself to ride this bike, he will rewire his brain. It takes him 8 months of riding a few minutes every day until one day all of a sudden, he can ride the backwards bike. He becomes an expert rider of this bike. On a trip to Holland he decides he will ride a regular bike. No problem, right? Just get back on and ride because he rode a regular bike most of his life.
He has completely lost the ability to ride a regular bike. He can not do it. His brain has been totally rewired for the backwards bike. He spends a while trying over and over to ride the regular bike as others look on in disbelief that a grown man can not ride a bike. The people watching think he has tricked them because all of a sudden, he can do it. Just like that there is a switch in his brain.
So, this guy spent the majority of his years riding a regular bike. His brain developed all the connections that made him able to ride a regular bike. Think of our students who have experienced trauma or high levels of stress and anxiety for the majority of their lives. Their brains, like the man’s become hard-wired for that experience. We then welcome them into our classrooms expecting them to exhibit behaviors opposite of what their brain is hard-wired for. When they stumble and fall socially and emotionally over and over again like the man does in Holland we look on just like those folks in Holland looked at this grown man who seemed unable to ride a bike- with disbelief. How is it possible that you can not do something so simple, so common, and something that seems to be common sense? Because their brain is wired for something else.
I forget this sometimes in the moment. It is easy to get wrapped up in my own needs for control that I overlook their needs. They need to be taught the basic skills of how to be with others in this space successfully. They will not just know it without hours, days, months…maybe years of practice. They will need to fall thousands of times and I need to be there with a smile and an encouraging word to help them back up and show them again. I only hope I am able to approach them with compassion more often than submit to my own frustration.