Outside of Oneself

I wrote about Students A & B at the beginning of my school year. I was nervous but excited to help these two children who happened to have Autism. I felt it would be a challenge to me because, I have absolutely no prior experience. I felt also, the experience of band could enlarge Student A and B’s worlds.

For the past months, Student B has surpassed the expectations of  many involved. He or she can read music, identify notes, understand note and rest durations, has a beautiful sound on the Clarinet, has excellent rhythm… But now things are getting harder, as music is like to do (Southernism). He or she is frustrated, “I like the easy questions, why can’t you just ask the easy questions and give me points?” (Classcraft) I try to explain that they are so smart and doing so well that sometimes I get to ask him or her hard questions. “I’m stupid, so I’m not smart. That’s why I need easy questions!” No no! You are so smart and intelligent and such an able musician and…. “No, no I’m not, you’re mean!”

Well I guess I am. However, Student B, Clarinet is your thing and I’m going to keep helping you feel smarter, capable, and darn it, able to answer hard questions!

That though, is for another day.

Student A* is the concern for this post.

Student A is the most volatile student I have ever taught. If he or she feels slighted, snubbed, ignored, disrespected, or is looked at while laughing (the laughing can be totally unrelated)- it’s on. Words fly, decibel are strained, anger washes through the room. Students wince and look wary and give Student A a wide berth.

Student A has made steps towards hitting, smacking, striking other students 3 times this year. He or she knows better. He or She has been diagnosed, confirmed by Exceptional Children Educators, Doctors, specialists the whole nine – he or she does, without a doubt understand violence, knows it’s wrong and is able to control his or her self.

After each attempt at violence this year, Student A has stopped at the sound of my voice, stepped back, realized the error, taken a minute, apologized or removed him or herself from the situation.

This is a huge deal. Yes, students are still worried. Yes, I’ve had to reassure them I will protect them. They know though, from previous years he or she has really improved.

I’ve called Student A’s parents and been as forward and truthful as possible. Student A had 3 out busts as I’ve said but the largest outburst was in Late October.

Student A has rhythm sticks (2) made of 1/2 inch round 1 foot long PVC pipe. Hollow yes, but imagine a skull and the damage of one of these sticks. The entire class made these sticks as a ratio measuring project/ music project.

Imagine if he or she had 2 inch thick 1 foot long Oak, Hickory, or Ash drumsticks. The damage these sticks could do. This has ALWAYS been my concern. You see, Student A’s fondest dream was to play percussion.

So that fateful day in October Student A raised those sticks in hatred and violence towards another student; I was afraid.

I can’t do this. I cannot make him or her understand.

I spoke with Student A’s parents and we agreed, one more chance. This is a true danger. We talked to Student A and he or she controlled his or her temper for two months! It took some reminding here and there, but everyone was feeling better and better about Student A and percussion.

Student A does not take to music like Student B. Student B does not practice. I have asked for Student B to work after school with me but, I’ve been unsuccessful. Student A does not do class work, will not complete assignments, and interrupts me often when I teach. I am interrupted to the point I am unable to instruct sometimes. I understand this is just the way his Autism manifests. Other teachers are more successful with guiding him back than I.  I do understand that.

But Student A wants to play Percussion. His behavior is the only obstacle. I can re-teach what he should have learned. I can constantly remind him or her and parents about homework. I can. But striking other kids? No, I can’t fix that.

So, this period of calm, this focus made me feel like, “yes! This is going to work!”

Then last week, oh last week.

Normal day. Student A comes in with his or her instrument and asks me questions right away about Classcraft. Not too uncommon, but he or she talks so fast, and 15 other kids warming up and my room has had all sound proofing removed (thanks to the county and whomever for my very real hearing loss)- I can’t always understand what Student A is saying. I try to though.

With normal coaxing, I get he or she to warm up. We play some songs and take out our notebooks for notes. All students grumble, and moan about the absurdity of notes in music class, because you know, music is so easy to instantly understand.

I see the lagging,l and dragging so I give an incentive for this assignment whomever finishes first, gets to log into Classcraft for 10 whole minutes. An excited murmur travels through the classroom.

Oh it’s on.

Everyone starts scribbling away. Except Students A and B. I coax, Student B is not having any of it – so I try Student A. I ask him or her to start the notes, I remind it’s a grade, you’ll test on it.

One student comes up triumphantly, perfectly copied notes in hand.

I call out, “One student is on Classcraft, who will be #2?”

Student A finally starts copying notes.

A second student finishes and gets on. The rest of the class keeps copying until finished. Student B is laying in the floor like he or she is catching rays; I get him or her up and back to the clarinet. Student A says, “I’m not finished!” frantically. I told him or her not to worry, keep copying.

The rest of the class plays some songs and we notice it’s time to pack up. I start my students on our exit procedures when Student A turns to me.

“I didn’t finish!”

“That’s okay, you can copy the rest tomorrow.”

“But I didn’t finish!”

“I understand that, but the bell is going to ring so–”

“IAMNOTFINISHEDYETIWANTTOGETONCLASSCRAFT!”

“Student A, you will have other chances this week to get onto Classcraft. The assignment reward was the first two students to finish copying notes fully, get extra time today. There will be more chances all week, and we have all day on Friday. Now, please go pack up now before the bell rings.”

“ARGUHHHHHHHHHHIWANTTOARUGHHHH!”

Student A, throws his notes attached to a classroom clip board into the wall/whiteboard – students jump back – and Student A is physically there in the room, but there seems to be no presence of self – arms flailing wildly, swinging out, deep screams coming from deep in his or her throat. Students after the initial shock, rush forward to offer comfort and I scream for them to step back. Still Student A is not in control of his or her anger or actions. I can’t get close, I have to keep the kids away.

I am scared Student A will get hurt. I am scared I will get hurt. I’m scared they won’t stop.

I am the adult. I am in charge. I have to do this quickly, immediately.

Angrily, I holler over Student A’s cries, everyone needed to go to class- for the bell rang at some point – and I sternly, forcefully shock Student A the only way I can.

“That’s it! You’ve lost your chance at percussion! I said one more chance and you lost it (the chance)!

suddenly, instantly, Student A stops dead in his or her tracks. He or she seems to come back to themselves. Tears suddenly corse down Student A’s cheeks.

Sobbing, crying, huge glassy eyes turn to me and I have broken his or her’s little heart.

Feeling like an absolute monster, the remaining kids dart through the now unblocked space; fear and adrenaline obviously quickening their steps. A few, stay, flanking me as if ready to jump forward any moment.

A voice with anger I don’t feel, and eyes that cannot look into Student A’s anymore, without betraying my remorse for what I had to say, I turn away towards the windows. I holler for the kids to leave – because Student A doesn’t just let go and stop. I turn around again facing the classroom cabinets and Student A.

When things get too much, Student A loops a phrase over and over until, I suppose, you give in. He or she will grab your wrists quiet strongly so you can’t get away; forcing you to understand what he or she wants.

Today was no different.

“PLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOOOOO.” Student A sobs and bellows, wrapping my wrists into strong hands. I tug with no success, I cannot get free without harming him or her.

With forcefulness and anger I don’t feel,  I bark at the remaining students to leave; the bell has rung at some point during this exchange.

“PLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENO!” Student A wails and tightens his or her grip, I begin to walk backwards slowly, trying to make it to the intercom. If I can get to the call button, I may be able to lean on it and get help.

Student A notices where we are walking towards, and his or her cries intensifies and he or she lets go of my wrists. I turn and rush to the call button and hit it before I am wrapped in an awkward hold, a hug perhaps? Maybe to make me feel better? I am sure I looked upset during this entire exchange.

“PLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASE!” Student A continues to sob and scream as I holler to the front office to send me help immediately.

Sometimes when I call, no one comes.

I notice, one child has disobeyed me, and is still in the room. She presents herself to me at a safe distance, and loudly asks me if she should grab Student A’s things and take them to class. I agree, and she efficiently grabs everything and opens the classroom door, to which thankfully, the school’s resource officer enters.

 

Thank Goodness.

 

The rest is confidential. I cannot tell you if what happened next.

I don’t feel like I could have done anything differently that day.  It was a situation I was never trained to respond to.  I can only hope this is the last time.

*( Student A could be male or female-  just because I chose a male graphic, which fit into the screen size in a more pleasing manner -doesn’t mean I am confirming or denying His or Her gender. I ask you not to put gender norms of any kind onto Student A)



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30 Comments

  1. Ritu

    It is so hard to deal with chikdren like this, as no one is really a full expert… We have an autistic student in my nursery snd are awaiting specialist support … But how to provide for that child in the meantime..
    Luckily he is not violent but he cannot express his needs fully…
    Good luck with your students…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. afternoonofsundries

      Thank you, I hope I can work towards understanding with him or her- so needs can be met! Good luck to you, I hope specialist support can help! Luckily, at younger ages you can consult and everyone thinks that’s a good thing. Here we are in the preteen time and no one wants to do this 😦 everyone should just know; as if it ever was that simple!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Unbound Roots

    Thank you for writing this post. As teachers, there are many difficult situations that come up, some we do not know how to deal with so we do our best, and then there are those super special moments too. I was a physical education specialist before I had my children (I decided to stay home with them), and 70% of my caseload was teaching children with disabilities. There were two children in my six years of teaching that were very violent (one was a kindergarten student and one a 5th grader). The kindergarten student was still small enough and not quite strong enough to pack-a-punch, but the 5th grader was a different situation. Every time I had this child in class (I had this student 1-on-1 since it wasn’t safe to have him in class with other students), my heart would beat fast, and I would hold my breath for the entire period. This student ended up being homeschooled due to the unsafe-nature of his disability. The last day he was in school, he managed to grab a wooden dowel from a ceiling swing in the sensory room. The dowel was 3 ft. long and 1 1/2″ thick. The student was running wildly around the room swinging at every adult in in the room (at this point there were probably five people in the room).

    I also had student with autism. One student was in second grade at the time. This student was not violent at all, but I could NOT get her to participate in class. It wasn’t until I talked this this child’s parents that I found the golden key. The color yellow. This child loved the color yellow, so from that point on, we used yellow soccer balls, yellow hula hoops, yellow jump ropes, everything yellow. That particular child never missed an activity from that day forward! I learned an important lesson that. Any student of mine that I had difficulties teaching, I went straight for the parents, as they knew their child best. Parental advice is what helped me the most in my adapted physical education classes. Again, thank you for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. afternoonofsundries

      Thank you for this very illuminating response! I will most definitely keep this in mind, and I hope any teachers reading this will too! Thank you for sharing your stories, my heart would do the same thing when I taught this young man’s class. It really was like walking on eggshells and holding my breath during that one class period!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. fattymccupcakes

    As a teacher myself, I find it very difficult for all involved to have a violent and volatile child in a general ed classroom. Whether or not the violence, disrespect, and behavior is due to the disability or not, I have to wonder how it affects the other students. Inclusion and the right to a free and appropriate education exists to protect those with disabilities, and rightly so. But, what about the rest? When a child’s behavior continually disrupts the learning of others, it’s no longer appropriate and there needs to be something done about it. Major behavior challenges are why I question my career choice on a daily basis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. afternoonofsundries

      See I wondered why he was not placed in a separate setting at a school that could accommodate his needs. His parents did not want him to feel different. My students would approach me after class and ask if he could be removed from the class, not only were they scare for themselves but for me. There are many reasons I left, but knowing that when my students were afraid and that my principal was more afraid of what his parents would think… helped me realize I had to, at the very least transfer. Which I did.

      I question too. It can be frustrating with all the requirements and restrictions and the very little worth other place on your life and livelihood.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. afternoonofsundries

        It is. My other students were genuinely afraid of him, and that’s not good for them or him. He didn’t want the kids to be afraid of him, he really was a wonderful child. He just simply didn’t have the management tools yet. I’m not even sure being in a regular setting he could get those tools. But we tried and I hope in spite of this he does so well. It’s just frustrating to know things could’ve been done and should’ve been done differently even before this year and weren’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. fattymccupcakes

        That’s because there isn’t enough funding for schools. Violent students shouldn’t even be placed in the general education setting. If they absolutely have to, they should have a one-on-one highly trained aid. Enough is enough. I’m so tired of everything being placed on our laps!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. afternoonofsundries

        Agreed 💯! It’s hard for me to envision a change though. I just don’t see anyone giving two damns unless teachers become valued more. Where I’m at, I’m on level with a replaceable community member who sings sometimes. 😦 I wish I knew why teachers became the enemy in our society (well in the US. Are you in the US? I assume much, I apologize). It’s… heartbreaking and soul crushing and I think that’s why people leave.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ritu

    Rereading this I identify even more. My students are younger but the risk of harming others is still an issue with our suspected autistic ones…
    It’s so hard sometimes to make the right call but we have to think on the hop. Xxc

    Liked by 1 person

    1. afternoonofsundries

      Thank you again for rereading Ritu! It really is so hard, even now I know I couldn’t have done anything differently at the time, but I still know it wasn’t necessarily the best way it could have been done. Do I know what way that would have been? No, and I doubt anyone at my school that year (barring actual trained special educators) could have answered that for me. But it still makes me think, there had to have been a better way to handle this. We really do have to think in the hop though. Thankfully all teachers seem to be good at that!!

      Like

  5. angelanoelauthor

    I love Erin’s comment and Katie, too. Every child, like Michealangelo’s block of stone awaiting his chisel, are art and beauty aching to be revealed. And yet, finding the keys to unlock each child and asking teachers to focus on a single individual when others need attention too, feels like we’re forcing teachers to go on blindfolded scavenger hunts in the rain.
    Thank you for loving what you do, and all the complexities that comes with. You are making a difference for all even when things don’t go as planned. You care. And that matters a whole lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. afternoonofsundries

      Thank you, it is extremely nice to hear this 🙂 Its true what you they’ve said, in this class there were two autistic students. (I talked about both in a previous post) My hope was music class went so well the year before that Band would become their “thing.” Neither were involved in anything after school and neither parents had discovered that all inspiring passion for their kids yet. We all thought maybe, maybe Band could be the door to opening up their worlds a little. I’m afraid I failed a bit, but I hope I will continue to learn, grow and always do better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. angelanoelauthor

        That’s such a great attitude. I don’t think you failed.
        I never really played Super Mario brothers, but I think the goal is to save the princess. Well, that’s pretty hard. So players just keep trying, overcoming the obstacles, trying something new each time. Sometimes, some players find her. But in the end, it’s not really about saving the princess, it’s about applying what was learned the last round, and trying again.
        I wonder if all of our life experiences aren’t a bit like that. The consequences are much more significant in your situation than a video game, to be sure. But, in the end, you’re not the only player in the game–Someone will find the way to help those students.
        I have absolutely no doubt you learned a ton, and again–I’m grateful that you keep at it. It inspires me to do the same when I face tough obstacles, too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. afternoonofsundries

        That was very poignant, thank you. I hope we all keep going, we have hidden depths to us all. There are things just waiting for us to discover them, we just cannot give up before we get there! It’s hard when your time isn’t when everyone else’s is, but if we just keep leveling up- as you say- surely we will rescue ourselves if not a princess along the way!

        Thank you for your kind advice and words! 🙇🏻‍♀️

        Liked by 1 person

  6. LIfe Through My Eyes

    Wow! That really sounds like a stressful situation. Though I am not a teacher, I have taught several summer camps and have had multiple students on the autism spectrum. It is difficult to know how to help them in every situation. But it seems like you definitely did the best you could!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. afternoonofsundries

      Thank you for your understanding:) it is difficult to know what to do because everyone is different. Not only that, most of the time when a child is triggered they can’t tell you why they were. So you have to remember everything you did or didn’t do- it can be frustrating for all. Thank you for visiting and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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