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–”
“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.”
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.
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)