“Yesterday my day started with two kids fighting and ended with one puking on the carpet, so at least I know tomorrow can’t be worse.” – Wednesday Jade
This week, my co-teacher told me that she’d be gone for two days: Tuesday and Thursday. Now, I may have mentioned that my second graders are a challenge, so I am always grateful to have a second teacher in the room, particularly one who speaks their first language. I won’t say that I was dreading teaching alone, but I certainly wasn’t thrilled about it. I’ve had one other solo teaching day this year–if I remember correctly, it was like the first week of school, and I gotta say, it was not one of my favorite days ever.
Every day is a challenge with my class. As a group, they are a challenge, and I have some individuals who challenge me. Anyway, moving on.
I showed up to school, optimistic and prepared. Mornings are easily our best time as a class, but it was rough. I had a whole writing lesson planned: Reading and discussing a book, making a chart of adjectives, writing stories, and adding adjectives. In the hour, all we did was read the book, and maybe a quarter of students were actually engaged. Why on earth would it take an hour to read a picture book, you ask? Let me paint you a picture. One student refuses to sit down, thinks it’s funny to run around and sit in teachers’ chairs and sit on other students’ heads. Most students are distracted by this behavior. Student 2 wants to chase Student 1. Student 3 is lying on the floor. Students 4-8 are talking. I get (almost) everyone’s attention and have a quiet moment to restate expectations and consequences. I start to read page 1 again, and the process repeats. Some people have given me advice to just stop what I’m doing until they demonstrate the expected behavior. I’ve tried, and this group will just run around and yell all day long.
Anyway, on any given day, at any point in the day, the boys in my class will be hitting and kicking each other, most of the students are saying mean things to each other in Chinese, and when I’m the only teacher in class, that becomes way more difficult to manage. It’s currently Thursday, so I don’t remember the specifics of Tuesday morning’s fight, but I’ll just note that there was one.
The day continued at 11 a.m, when the school librarian came up to help me. We read another book, which if I remember, went a little better, but only because the librarian took Student 1 out of the room (he’d been running around the classroom and then sliding his body under my chair and sticking his head out from between my legs as students yelled at me “TEACHER! MS. JADE! [NAME REDACTED!] [NAME REDACTED!] I know second graders are still learning a lot about the world, but dear sweet babies, you gotta know that I notice a child’s body invading my personal space.
Anyway, we finished the book and had time for about one discussion question (the entire purpose of reading this story was to learn how to infer details from context.)
I’ll skip to the end of the day. It was around 3 p.m, and I turned my back to students for a minute, and next thing I know, I hear “TEACHER! [NAME REDACTED] THREW UP!”
And so he had. Right on the carpet where we have all those fond memories of not being able to listen through a whole page of a book.
When I was explaining this situation to a coworker on Wednesday, he said, “and it’s not like you could go get an ayi to help clean it up, because you don’t speak Chinese.” And I was like, “No, I couldn’t get an ayi because all of my class wanted to step in it and I couldn’t leave them unattended.”
For the record, after many warnings and telling them to sit in their chairs and NOT step on the carpet, one of them DEFINITELY ON PURPOSE STEPPED RIGHT INTO IT TO BE FUNNY.
When I told my coworker on Wednesday that at least Thursday couldn’t be worse, I really and truly meant it.
On Thursday, I started my class out with a morning meeting. It took them a while to calm down and show they were ready, but I had them greet each other in a circle by whispering, and until the end, they did a really good job! We played telephone a little later, and Student 1/[Name Redacted], after staying home sick on Wednesday, actually let me whisper a word in his ear, and he maybe even continued the telephone line to the person next to him (actually, behind him, because of course this circle did not resemble a circle.) The morning meeting took about…an hour. It was ridiculous. I had them do a worksheet after, and I had to send one of my model students to get the principal because Student 1 was again running around the class and hitting and kicking everyone. I should mention that while I did the morning message, he sat in front of me and kicked and hit me for several minutes to try to get the attention of his classmates.
Fast forward 20 minutes to recess time.
I went down to recess for a minute and pretty much immediately, one of my students ran up to me and tried to communicate some sort of problem. At the same time, the principal came down because he wanted to have a meeting with Student 1. Then, simultaneously, we see two of my students had gotten into some sort of toxic masculinity competition and one of them had a long cut down the side of his cheek. We temporarily put that fire into someone else’s hands, then went back up to have our meeting about Student 1.
We discussed our expectations for behavior, asked him what he needs, what challenges he has, etc. He was very calm and seemed somewhat receptive. Of course, we got back to class and his behavior remained the same, and spoiler alert: he ended up going home early.
So back to the recess boys. On Tuesday, we’d gotten an email from a mom explaining that her son felt bullied and excluded from a certain popular boy’s friend group. Both of those kids were the ones involved in this recess incident.
Now, I didn’t witness the actual incident, just the aftermath. I often see boys hitting and kicking and wrestling, and it’s sometimes hard to know if it’s well intentioned/playful, or malicious. Sometimes (especially with certain students and in certain situations) it’s obvious, but there are a lot of times when I honestly can’t tell, and I try to err on the side of “how about we just don’t hit each other ever because even if you think you’re having fun, the person you’re hitting may disagree.”
The teacher who broke up the incident said they were wrestling, and some adults questioned whether it was like, play wrestling or angry wrestling. Without witnessing the fight, I was pretty confident that it was angry wrestling. Witness teacher held up a little thorn thing and said that it had cut the boy’s face, but that he was unsure whether it was an accidental cut from rolling in the plants or if the thorn had been used as a weapon. I don’t like to assume the worst, but I was assuming the worst.
We were eventually able to get the boys together and talk a little about their conflict. Boy with the scratch had been reluctant to give any information when he was with the nurse (he actually said that he didn’t know how it happened, just pointed to where it happened.) From what we’ve gathered, Boy A felt excluded/bullied and felt like he needed to assert his dominance before Boy B could hurt him first. So he initiated the fight and Boy B bit his leg in response, and Boy A used the thorn thing to cut Boy B. He says it was an accident, and I do believe that he didn’t think through the consequences/intend to hurt Boy B in that way, (I’m specifically remembering a time when my nephew touched a sharp knife out of curiosity) but I’m going to make a blanket statement that all of my boys need to learn how to handle feelings of anger and sadness and rejection. They also need to learn how to play nicely and be inclusive. I’m hoping that we can start to take some productive steps towards learning these lessons, because the direction we’re headed is pretty bleak.
We had some additional challenges throughout the day, but nobody ended up bleeding because of them, so I’ll end the story there. By 2 p.m, 3 of my boys had gone home. I have to believe that tomorrow will be better, and that the next day will be better than that. Well, the next day is Saturday, so it’ll obviously better than any workday, but you catch my drift.
On the plus side of all of this, I feel like I’m seeing progress in the process even if some students are regressing. I’ve gotten a lot of support from a lot of people at school, and I feel like we’re starting to work out how to help some individuals get the support they need, which may impact the dynamic of the whole group.
I think I’ll have 2-3 solo teaching days next week (and maybe the week after that? I honestly have no idea), so pray for me and for my 20 kiddos who are still trying to figure out kindness and friendship and respect.