Inside Looking Out: Class acts
The other day I was telling a friend a few stories of unforgettable moments from my teaching days.
The first one I shared was about a high school English student who took his frustration to another level.
It all began when I asked for a volunteer to read and I picked Charles, who had raised his hand. He pointed his index finger at the page and began to speak.
“The, the boy was 2, no 12. He was 12, not 2, and he uh, uh, was running, no riding, yeah, he was riding his bite, bite? No he was riding his bike, yeah his bike, and sun, sun, something, no sometimes she, no he.”
Suddenly, Charles flipped his book closed. He picked it up, and raising it above his head with two hands, he slammed the text down on his desk.
“Son of a (expletive)! He shouted. “I can’t read for (expletive)!”
Charles then jumped from his chair and marched to the front of the room. I stood there speechless and frozen in the moment. With a look of desperation upon his face, he stomped back and forth in front of me.
“I can’t (expletive) read!” He shouted. “Stupid (expletive) story! Stupid kid on his stupid bike. (Expletive) stupid like (expletive) me! “Can’t even read two (expletive) words and I (expletive) up!”
I allowed his rant so as to not escalate his emotional outburst. Charles then slapped his hand on the blackboard, took a deep breath, and returned to his seat. He reopened his book to the page of the story.
My students stared at me with wide eyes and dropped jaws. They waited for my next move. Reprimand Charles for shouting obscenities? Send him to the office?
I looked out to the class and I said, “OK, who would like to read next?”
Charles raised his hand.
He stretched his arm out and waved his fingers in the air. I looked straight at him and calmly said, “Thanks for volunteering again, Charles, but let’s give someone else a chance now.”
Another time in another English class, I showed my frustration to a group of students, none who provided much effort to anything academic.
“OK, listen up,” I said. “We have to read this story in the book. It’s one of those things we must do in school. Read!”
I’m certain they heard the frustration in my voice.
“So I assigned this story for homework last night and apparently, none of you read it. So now let’s see how we’re going to get it done.”
They looked totally uninterested and unmotivated.
“Who would like to read the story silently in class?” I asked. No one raised a hand. “OK, who would like to read the story out loud in class?” Again, no one raised a hand.
I looked to the back of the room at David, who glared at me with a smirk on his face. He was a troubled kid with a bad attitude, and I mostly ignored him so as not to distract the other students.
David raised his hand. Reluctantly I said, “What is it David?”
“I got an idea,” he said. “Why don’t YOU take the story home and read it out loud to yourself!”
The class turned their heads to me, waiting to see what I was going to do. For a second, I stared David back down, but then I did what my mind was telling my body to do. I burst out laughing! Then David laughed and everyone else laughed, too.
By the way, I did read the story aloud, but I read it to them and we had a good discussion about it afterward.
Earlier in my career, I was trying to teach a lesson to ninth-graders, and they wouldn’t stop talking. The noise in the room got so loud that I lost my cool.
“Shut up!” I screamed. The chatter stopped immediately. I felt this awesome sense of power and authority. I’m in charge now! I’m the teacher!
I walked out of the room and slammed the door behind me. A colleague in the room next door rushed out.
“What did you do in there?” She asked.
“I told them to shut up.”
“And what did they do?”
“They shut up.”
“So now what?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll figure out something when I go back in.”
I opened my classroom door. Not a peep came from the students. Their eyes were all on me as I walked across the floor. I thought, I’ll show them who’s the boss!
I kicked at a garbage can as hard as I could. My foot went right through the side of the plastic can and my shoe got stuck inside. I shook my foot and with one upward thrust of my leg, the can flew into the air and came down on top of my head.
Quickly I pulled it off and set it back on the floor. I looked at the students for their reaction. What had just happened suddenly hit me and I let out a loud laugh. Then the students laughed. One boy fell from his desk onto the floor holding his side. Others reached for tissues to wipe the tears from their eyes.
In my teaching career, I had learned from my students while they were learning from me. They taught me to have self-restraint in unexpected moments of chaos and to laugh when something is funny, especially when that something is me.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.