Angry disruption in class

Frequently, our listservs for fl teachers contain laments over the outbursts of students with little emotional control. I thought my log today should be about such an incident that occurred today.

There’s a boy with quite a history at my school. From the first day in class, he displayed a great deal of anger. He is a small, balled up boy who frequently closes his eyes, puts his head down or way back, and shakes his head and rubs his face. I have talked with his mother several times and she says that indicates he doesn’t like what he’s hearing. What he doesn’t like, it turns out, is just about everything. Basically, he’s one of those people who wants the world to just be different.

While he frequently makes cogent comments in class and follows along more or less, he also makes rude and derisive comments. No one else in the class is remotely like this, so he really stands out. He needs protection b/c he is clearly disordered in some way, yet he needs to stay engaged with the activities in class.

Today we were going over a story we will test on tomorrow. We had started this yesterday. I use pictures representing aspects of the story. After going through the story again, I started showing the pictures, asking students in turn to respond to the picture with an appropriate phrase or word from the story. They could look at the story (the test will be the same without the story in front of them). So when this student’s turn came, he was trying but suddenly slammed his hands down on his desk and yelled at two other students to shut up.

He went back to trying to get the answer but again yelled at them and went into paroxysms of disgust and anger. After another try, he seemed to fold, so I casually said we’d move on and come back to him. During this exchange, I looked at the two kids he was addressing and admonished them. I knew very well the three of them had a long history, complicated by a rivalry over the girl. The other two kids hang out in my room during lunch and are very good students, but they go out of their way to needle this kid.

So during study hall, the counselor who heads the team that works with this boy (good thing about this school – they have a team that works with troubled kids) came by and I gave her a heads up on it. Let me say here that he was involved in a very serious incident in which he was the ’good guy’, so it’s not like he is some sort of spoiled kid or lazy kid or these other labels teachers often put on kids. He is seriously troubled but not enough to be expelled.

I looked him up after school and asked if he was clear now and told him I did not see what the others were doing, but I’d watch tomorrow. He said things were now OK. It’s difficult for several reasons to win this kid over, but the school is grateful I’m working with him since it was not at all clear he’d be kept in the school. And let me be clear, during the classroom incident, he was asserting himself, not aggressing against anyone. He was inappropriate in the way he did it but he’s only 15 and not in good control anyway, so I quickly evaluated what he was doing in light of the history I know and what I’ve seen in my class. He wasn’t actually violating any “rule” other than yelling shut up to people who were trying to upset him.

I will speak to the two students tomorrow and explain to them that while this is just teasing to them, it is not to me because my job is to teach the other boy and I cannot do that when they bring their issues into the classroom. The boy should be moved to another class but there’s only one Latin teacher.

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