Friday, February 4, 2011

Booking it

Like last year, I have some capital-A Angry Kids in my class.  They are mistrustful and suspicious of everyone ("I don't need any friends, I don't trust nobody in this class").  They take everything as a personal affront or insult.  They go out of their way to attract attention through every possible negative behavior: loud and frequent farting noises, banging on the table, kicking other kids' chairs, bumping the table so no one can write.  And when asked to stop, they will tell you they weren't doing it even as they continue to do it.

Since winter break, our kids have been in "book clubs," reading the same book at the same pace so they can meet with each other and discuss the book.  Now, imagine you're a capital-A Angry Kid.  You hate books.  You hate people.  You hate being told what to do.  Now you're in a book club.  Perfect!

If you were to come to my classroom with the intention of watching my students chatter away in their book clubs, what you would probably witness instead in at least one corner of the room is someone getting Angry, kicking a chair or slamming a book down, and storming away from the group.  Today it took me fifteen minutes just to determine that Marcelino hadn't finished his book, because he kept rolling his eyes and exclaiming, "Jesus Christ!" when I inquired whether or not he had done the reading.  (He then went on to inform me in no uncertain terms that he had no intention of reading the rest.)  Walter came to his book club meeting without his book and sat there for about twenty minutes; when Ms. Halpert told him to go get it, he got up, walked in a semi-circle around his chair, and sat back down.  When I told him to go get it, he heaved himself up with a piercing "Okaaaaaaaaay!"  Vanessa eloquently summed it up this way: "I hate school, I hate people, I hate reading, I hate reading to other people, I hate talking to people, I hate books..."  I think it might have gone on from there, but honestly, I had heard enough.

I've been seeing that video clip of Cathie Black getting booed at the PEP meeting on Tuesday night and responding to the crowd's jeers with a sarcastic noise.  I would love, love, love to see Cathie Black come into my classroom and demonstrate how to be one of those fantastic teachers she's always talking about, and show me how to raise the test scores of kids like my Angry Kids.  I can be delivering the greatest lesson ever prepared in the most scholarly way ever, but if your hands are over your ears and you're rocking in the corner with your sweatshirt up over your head, that lesson is not going to reach you.  I want someone like Cathie Black to acknowledge that quality teaching is only part of it, that one has to be a social worker and a psychologist and a guidance counselor and a parental figure all wrapped up into one. 

14 comments:

Miss Emily said...

Do you have any suggestions for these angry kids? Your class sounds like mine. Last year was my first year and I was at an amazing school for gifted and talented students. This year I am at one of the lowest performing schools in the distric with a lot of students with issues. I have soo many angry boys(and a few girls) in my room. They just fly off the handle about anything. One huge issues I have is they get in eachothers faces and try to be all tough.

I've read your blog for awhile now but just a silent follower. Seems like you might be able to help me out...

miss brave said...

Hi Miss Emily! I read your comment to my husband and he said, "Yeah, my suggestion is happy hour."

But in all seriousness: I have heaps upon heaps of things I've tried, with varying degrees of success. I've taped notes down to kids' desks reminding them of things they can do when they're angry (take deep breaths, count to 10, take a break) and I've had angry kids get so angry that they rip it up. Next! I've taught kids "secret signals" (like putting up two fingers) to me that they need to leave the room for a few minutes to cool off (I make them take a timer with them into the hallway and they're supposed to come back when it rings)...this sometimes works out but sometimes the kid goes out into the hallway and refuses to come back inside, oops. One thing that's always tricky is getting a kid to talk about it when he's NOT angry...with some of my kids it's so hard to catch them at a calm moment.

With my kids, so much of their anger and frustration comes from external sources, and a lot of their lashing out happens when someone invades their space or touches their things. So I try as much as they can to give them ownership of something: This is your special spot, or your special squeeze ball, or your special whatever. That, and consistency is key.

ms.understood said...

Ha! I, so, identify with your description of Angry with a Capital "A" kids. I have a kid this year I call "the Hulk" because I swear he turns green when he gets angry and rips through walls!

Marie said...

Interesting post! I am starting an after school boys book club in NYC that integrates reading with service learning. For our program, I have specifically recommended that our program is small, inclusive and includes support from the boys' family, school and a social worker for the program.

Bronx25 said...

I have been teaching for 25 years. I think the new form of Angry Child is a style of behavior. They wear it like a funky coat. The banging is the newest thing..which in all my years had only occurred sporadically ..and now seems to be pervasive(years ago I had a second grade banger..banged continually - so one day I started banging too.....he got disturbed, looked up and said NO..Only I bang..I said No me too....he stopped and never did it again)...I teach six classes a day...science hands on, highly motivating and actually fun. The weirdest behavior begins in third grade. Younger than that the behaviors seem just babyish. Suddenly nasty happens in third grade. I use pens because I hate the sharpening nonsense. Most kids love the idea. The nasty ones in third grade screw them all apart, make tattoos all over their skin or steal them right in front of me. The behaviors you describe are exact! I have tried all my various methods...now I just do my yoga breathing and focus on the ones there to learn. I don't engage. They love attention and verbal repartee. Not engaging seems to take away their audience. Sometimes Angry KIds jump into the lesson and actually do well(they liked circuits although a few liked squeezing the bulbs until they broke- well well). sometimes they and their disciples sit and bang for 50 minutes. Obscenities, physical or verbal harassment(yo fat girl, or you are a faggot are the most popular) get a trip to the SAVE room. I also file on line with the UFT that a student used a harassing term(faggot, fat girl, bitch and I tell the principal and teacher just in case the victim's parent complains, they have a heads up. Document. Document. Document. That way when one of the Angry Kids shoves a sharpened pencil into the ear of a fellow student almost reaching the brain requiring a ER visit you have a history of prior reported scary stuff. Yes..."he is just an excitable boy". These are the kids that really need to be in a smaller environment. Certainly not in a class of 32. Dare I say it "intervention...." and extreme family counseling before we need a bailsbondman. It is amazing how I do the same lesson/material with all different classes on the same grade levels and behavior is the deciding factor of how much we achieve. I feel so sad for the "prisoners of war", the great good kids, who sit there everyday amidst such outrageous conditions. I strive to make sure they do all the experiments and all the hands on. I told them I am there to make sure they don't suffer because of a handful. I only have it for 50 minutes....I can't imagine all day ...wow. After lunch in various rooms the furniture actually starts flying. My heart goes out to the classroom teachers. They all look so drained. Cathie Black...now that would be hilarious..she would need a body guard.

miss brave said...

ms. understood -- I have a Hulk too!
Marie -- that sounds like a great progam.
Bronx25 -- that's why I'm frustrated by the idea of judging teachers by their test scores, because that assumes that all kids WANT to learn. Not that all kids don't want to learn, but with some of them it takes a lot more non-teaching effort to get them there.

Teachinfourth said...

It's funny that most people don't realize that teacher have to be more than just a teacher...sometimes it's hard, but it's also rewarding.

Keep at it, nurse/social worker/cheerleader/friend/parent/counselor/etc/etc/etc/

Anonymous said...

I don't have what it takes to be a crisis intervention counselor. I can't combine effective teaching with constant cajoling of students who are angry/sulking/acting out. I can do a certain amount of the above, but if it starts to dominate (and it frequently does) the time/space in my classroom, I feel as if I'm being asked to do my job and the children's parents job too. This just doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

The angry child is the most difficult to manage. On one hand, it is unproductive to acknowledge the behavior because it gives the angry child an audience, as well as a platform to lash out at you verbally. Consequences are meaningless to the angry child, as they want to be angry. No free time? Fine, I'll bang on the table. No gym? Great! Now I can yell about it. Call my mom? Her lack of discipline and intervention in my life is partially why I am on the angry kid!

On the other hand, ignoring the angry child's behavior sends a message to other students that it is okay to break the rules. Then, when you assign consequences or reprimands to these students, they rightly feel that you are being unfair.

I teach a self-contained class where many children carry the label "emotionally disturbed," but I refuse to believe that these children started out life as angry. Someone made them angry. As a teacher I was prepared to manage my classroom. I knew teaching was about more than grading papers and planning lessons, but at a certain point when we are asked to become psychologists and parents and are told our lessons aren't engaging enough, I have to protest. I am not their parent, not their social worker. Teaching is more about managing than conveying ideas or content, and that is wrong.

Golfmailat Netistä said...

That type of kids can really get my blood pressure going =/

Faire Argent said...

I hope it all works out well for you sis!

cat said...

wow! i can't imagine your day-to-day. as a librarian in training, it scares me. a lot.

but i agree with you...i would LOVE to see one of your children throw a chair at Cathie Black! only that might only reinforce her idea that all public school children are hooligans--which we all know is not true...not ALL of them anyway....and then we would NEVER get another snow day!

hang in there, and keep blogging. some of us need that "from the trenches" perspective.

Jewish School said...

Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. It definitely takes a special type of person to be a teacher and genuinely care about growth and wellbeing of children, especially the "Angry with a capital 'A'" ones.

new york psychologists said...

Is this called Introvert! I know this kind of children! Even I was one of them I think :-).But your saying, "You hate books. You hate people.You hate being told what to do. Now you're in a book club. Perfect!" It's simply wonderful! It's a achievement.I believe, just one person can change the whole life of any poor children(both in mind and social status). Its really an inspiring article. Thank you very much.