Today I realised at some point between Easter and now, I stopped dreading teaching my year 10 class. I actually actively look forward to seeing them now. They’re finally really quite lovely to me.
Ruthless persistence with detentions and phone calls was definitely the main reason for this, but I also think a series of three events was a catalyst. These events changed the way I saw these 6 feet tall young men and attitude-laden young women: I truly internalised the fact they were children. They needed and (very very deep down) wanted me to take charge and never ever give up on them. I knew all this in theory before, of course, but believing it in your bones can be a different matter.
The first event was seeing Kayleigh sitting outside a classroom crying. Kayleigh is the first in line to make nasty jibes at others; her crying is not normal sight. I stopped to ask what was wrong, and before I knew it a 15 year old girl was hugging me, hysterically sobbing on my shoulder about how bad her period pains were. The sneering girl who shunned my offers of help with the work, who loathed public praise and who giggled through behavioural correction conversations was gone. Here was a girl in pain. She wanted comfort. In that moment, she was wanted to get some comfort from me.
The second was Taylor sitting in the vice principal’s office, staring at his shoes, being told that threatening violence against me could get him permanently excluded, even though it was said in anger. In that moment, he just looked so small. I could’ve mistaken this notorious be-hoodied teenager for a year 7 with a quick glance. It honestly was as if he’d physically shrunk.
The third was when during break duty, I heard Reis shout a “your mum” joke at Charlie. I could see this wouldn’t end well as Charlie got up, shouting abuse back at Reis. I got between the boys, holding either one at arms’ length, with their respective friends helping me restrain them by pulling their arms back. Though externally, they were both still swaggering, playing cool, pretending they were up for a fight, through my palms I could feel both their heartbeats. I’ve never felt hearts pumping harder or faster. These were two boys who were terrified. They didn’t want to fight. They just couldn’t lose face.
Of course, I’ve read all these insights in behaviour management books. They’re only children. But no book and no third-person anecdotes could etch that into my brain like the jarring sight of a deflated ego in a plush office, the visceral feeling of two beating hearts in my palms, and the sensation of warm tears falling on my shoulder in the middle of an empty corridor.