I graduated from high school in 1970, which is a long time ago. I think school has improved since then: more counselors, more programs, more academic offerings, and more extra-curricular activities. The one thing that has not changed much in schools is the students - and their behaviors.
When I was in the 7th grade, I had to attend an old and worn-out building that was not in my neighborhood, but in a poor section of town. Every other year, students from my area in the "Heights" were assigned to Wood Street Junior High for three years, grades 7,8, and 9, as the district balanced the population of its two junior highs using that formula. I cried when I discovered I had to go to school at Wood Street, but in hindsight, I realize that because of the challenging clientele of students, the very best teachers taught there, and I also learned about socio-economics. Wood Street provided a great education for me.
In 9th grade, a boy I will call "Shawn" was in my English class. He was a troubled boy: he had unwashed hands and dirty clothing; he never ate lunch; he was suspended several times per month; he did not own a winter coat, and he was rude and mean to just about everyone. (Not to me, however.) I loved my 9th grade English class and teacher (although I did not know at the time that I would be following in her footsteps for my chosen profession.) Our English teacher taught the class before ours down on the first floor of the building, and she had to travel against the crowd up the stairs to get to our class on the third floor. She was always several minutes late. Luckily for me, I was in the room across the hall, so I could get to English class early and relax for a few minutes, or finish the last few sentences of an assignment. These few minutes were my biggest break of the day - until Shawn decided that he was going to throw all the student desks out the windows every day. No, I am not kidding. The room had those ancient windows that were 12-14 feet high, and they tilted out, so Shawn had no problem opening windows and throwing the desks out, one after another. They were one-piece desks, with the chair attached, so throwing out 34 desks was a major task, and he repeated this behavior day after day. (I would never let him have my desk- I piled all of stuff on the desk and held onto it. It was exhausting.) It was wonderful for our entire class when he was suspended for desk throwing.
Shawn was suspended many times that year - at least 10 times for the desk throwing. He was expelled for a time, and then returned to school. I saw him occasionally in the hallways through grades 10, 11, and 12, but we had no classes together. I heard he was drinking heavily and smoking a LOT of weed, and then I went off to college, got married, and moved away from home to begin my career as a teacher. I rarely gave him a thought.
Years later, about 1998, I was in my hometown, visiting with my parents. They wanted to stop at the local McDonald's, so we went in for lunch. We spotted a homeless man outside the restaurant, digging through the trash cans, and eating the discarded food. It was disgusting to watch. The man looked through window and saw me, and recognized me. It was Shawn, the desk-thrower.
He came inside and walked over to speak to me. His clothes were filthy and he was completely disheveled. He said hello, and he told me he was homeless. Although his body odor was strongly offensive, I invited him to sit down, and told him I wanted to buy him lunch. (My parents were appalled, but said nothing.) I introduced him to my parents, and his manners were excellent. He told us that his brain was fried from too many drugs, and that he had been homeless on and off for years. He made sure to tell me that he remembered that I was always nice to him at school. As lunch progressed, he told us that his father was a mean drunk who beat his children every day and drank away his meager paychecks. My loving parents were practically weeping into their hamburgers and coffee. I gave Shawn a few dollars to help him get a meal at dinner, and we parted ways. I never saw him again. When he left the table, my parents looked at me in a new light, and they told me that in their opinion, I had helped Shawn in some small way. I agreed. I was glad we had the talk about his home life. Upon reflection, Shawn helped me to become a better teacher, by seeing life and behaviors - the cause and effect - through his eyes. I was glad that I had always been kind to Shawn, even when I did not agree with his behaviors.
I had been teaching for 24 years when I saw Shawn that day at McDonald's and he merely confirmed what I had been thinking all along. Even in junior high, I suspected that someone or something was making Shawn so angry that he had to spill his anger and pummel others with that anger, or he would explode. In my 24 years teaching, I had seen so many "Shawns." I knew that not everyone had the loving parents and comfortable and safe home that I had enjoyed while growing up. I always treated those students with kindness, the same as I treated Shawn. Children in unloving homes need kindness.
Teachers, students who act out in class are sending you a message. Punishing them and making them feel worse about themselves is not going to improve the situation. I suggest working toward good relationships with your students, building trust, and seeing what happens with their behaviors once mutual respect is established. After teaching 37 years, I know that when students trust the teacher, secrets will pour out of them, and you will have the chance to be a conduit to people and programs that can help those students. An remember, it is always a good idea to be kind. The kindness you share may be the only kindness a person receives in a day or even a week.
I just Googled my former classmate, "Shawn." He died in 2016. I did not know.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
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Please invite Grady Gets Glasses (and me) into your school. if you are not in the Pittsburgh area, we do virtual field trips with a group called Field Trip Zoom. www.Fieldtripzoom.com GRADY GETS GLASSES was the winner of Best New Children's Book 2016 from The Authors' Zone. For more information about The Authors' Zone, please visit http://www.theauthorszone.com/submissions/
Visit Dede's webpage for complete details on her award-winning book, STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER. Many colleges have made the book required reading. Signed copies are available www.dederittman.com Dede is also a national speaker on The Three C's for Classroom success: Confidence, communication, and Creativity; Avoiding Teacher burnout; and many other inspirational topics.
I LOVE writing. And I love writing children's books- my newest passion. Although it will be a ton of work, I am looking forward to selling my books. Since I was a secondary teacher, I know that I have much to learn about elementary students, and I will have to follow my own advice and be my genuine self. However, I also know that I am passionate about helping kids who have to wear glasses, and that GRADY GETS GLASSES sends a positive message. I am willing to work hard and do all the things that also made me a successful teacher for 37 years. I remain inspired!
Elementary teachers in Western Pennsylvania and beyond - I am willing to come into your classroom in person or as a virtual field trip through a group called Field Trip Zoom. Check them out! http://www.fieldtripzoom.com/
Teacher friends- let me know if you want me to read GRADY GETS GLASSES at your school. I am willing to come in to discuss the creative writing process, why writing is important, and personal fulfillment through writing, along with reading my book. I would appreciate the exposure, and I would make signed copies available for purchase in your classrooms following the reading. Please email me at email@example.com The website www.gradygetsglasses.com now has plush Grady bunnies for sale!
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