So this happened. Generally, I am relatively easy to get along with – people like me. Not so much last week when a confrontation with a student escalated to a point where I lost my cool. It happens – in the classroom, in my office, in any work environment, and in relationships. The problem in this particular case was that there was no relationship with this student…yet.
The incident. I was called to another location in the school building because a student was refusing to move from that location and becoming increasingly oppositional. Some background information: new student about whom I know relatively little. I step into the situation believing that I can persuade said student to relocate either by returning to the assigned classroom, moving to an alternate setting, or coming with me to my office to chat. My gentle persuasion did not work. I moved onto a more aggressive tone and posture which may have included language that the student interpreted as threatening. That was the threshold for him. The next thing out of his mouth was “Don’t threaten me, b***h” which was accompanied by a very chilling glare.
What happened next? The language and response caused me to reach my threshold at that moment. In my 32 years as an educator, I don’t recall being called a b***h. I know that such things happen and one should not take it personally. I feel privileged to have relationships with students that are generally positive to the point that I didn’t have to hear myself called that name. But there it was. And I had to call for back-up and remove myself from the situation. I call it my “retreat, rethink, retry” cycle.
And then what? It was a Thursday I think. A lot was happening. I did not return to that student on that day. However, bright and early Friday morning, the student walked by me on his way to homeroom. I called out his name. He did not stop. I foolishly followed the student in a rapid gait as the “click, click, click” echoed in the hallway. Finally he turns around and looks at me with a piercing gaze and mumbled something under his mask. I am still uncertain as to what he said.
What did I say? I said, “Hey, that situation on Thursday did not go quite the way that I wanted it to and escalated. We don’t know each other and I should have taken the time to get to know you before having that conversation.” He looked up at me quizzically. I went on to say “I simply wanted to apologize but more importantly, I wanted to ask for your forgiveness so that we could repair our relationship. I should have taken time to get to know you. You do not have to respond right now but think about it. Think about whether you can accept my apology but more importantly, grant me your forgiveness.”
He looked even more puzzled beneath his mask. But then he said this, “I will forgive you if you will forgive me.” I am not going to lie – I got a little choked up and then more choked up as I saw the hostility dissipate from his gaze, replaced with a little twinkle. It was a Fresh Start Friday for us. I said so and we went on our way.
Relationships first. We all know the importance of spending time on relationships. Not only do we understand and empathize with each other when we make that time but it allows the formation of a foundation. Understanding others doesn’t mean the rules change or bend, but our approach, words, actions, and assigned consequences may. The consistency with respect to rules and regulations does not change. Oftentimes, students in distress need that more than anyone else. However, when a relationship is formed, dialogues can occur that are more impactful and transformative.
The moral of the story. Relationships require that foundations be formed before we can have difficult conversations. Simple stuff – foundations then conversations. Try it – it does work. And sometimes relationships suffer damage because of our actions. Take time to repair and restore them.