13 February 2014

step away

Most days, I spent my afternoons with one little gem of a student. It's just the two of us. We come back from lunch, chill out, then work, then chill out some more. Today was a particularly difficult day for him. He refused to check his vertical schedule, then threw his schedule pieces on the ground or in the finished box before we did the activity. He hit me over and over, and dropped himself to the ground in order to avoid working (because he knows he is too heavy for me to support him to his seat in the way I support other students in the class) about a catrillon times.

As I was attempting to change him and he was kicking me repeatedly (and painfully) in the ta-ta, I almost lost it. I was doing the child a favor, and he was responding by hurting me and I was legitimately becoming angry.

So you know what I did?

I finished changing him, thought long and hard about what I was going to do, and then I texted our school counselor and asked if she would please come to my room and relieve me for five minutes. She wasn't available, but our sweet principal came to my door, patted me on the back and said "Go. I've got this."

So I stepped away.

My principal wasn't mad. She doesn't look at me as if I am incapable of my job. She didn't later call me down to her office to chat about why I can't handle ONE four year old. In fact, when I thanked her for coming down, she responded very sincerely with, "Any time."

Sometimes as teachers, especially teachers of children with challenging behavior, I think we can be a little too brave. I mean, there is a reason we are working with these kiddos, right? Obviously because we are superman/woman in the flesh. As chaos ensues, we are often the ones that come in to solve the problem or deescalate the situation. We should be able to handle it. We should be able to calm down. We should be able to take a look at the bigger picture. We should be able to find a solution.

Most days, I am the one to relieve a teacher. I have stepped into a classroom to deal with behavior more than once. But today, I was proud that I ignored all of those superwoman "shoulds" and took a breather. In the literally 2.5 minutes that I stepped out of my classroom, I was able to see that even though he was throwing his schedule pieces he was demonstrating a full understanding of the vertical scheduling system, and a full understanding of the meaning of each of the PECS cards. I was able to remember that I'd forgotten, again, to print additional "First, Then" cards, which may have helped. I was able to decide to scrap half of our work session to enjoy the beautiful weather outside. I walked back in my classroom cool, calm, and under control and continued the day with my little friend.

To be clear, I am not advocating for running away from our issues at school. I am not suggesting that this is ALWAYS a good solution. But I am saying that sometimes, if you step away, you become a better teacher in a matter of seconds.

Stepping away can be hard to manage from a logical standpoint as well as an emotional one. Not everyone has a bomb.com principal like I do (#shamelessplug) and there are truly times where you absolutely cannot leave your students. But there are quite a few easy ways you can step away if you feel like your teaching and your behavior (and here's a hint: if your behavior sucks, your class' is probably going to mirror that) is going downhill quick. You can:

  1. Ask the person next door to you to watch your class, and walk down the hallway and back
  2. Sit at your desk and take a few deep breaths
  3. Sit at your desk and take some sips of water
  4. Sit at your desk and say a prayer
  5. Find one student who is doing the right thing and focus on how proud you are of the very difficult job you do
  6. Take your class outside for a little extra recess
  7. ... the list goes on.

Before you get to that crazy train breaking point, come up with a strategy for how you will cope. Then, when you get to it, even if it seems silly and so not a big deal, and you feel stupid for even thinking you need to get away, try your plan. I allbutguarantee that you will come back refreshed and ready to face your fun head on!

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