Bad Seed?

| April 14, 2011

Each Tuesday and Friday I teach an after-school flute sectional at a charter school in Bushwick for elementary and middle school students, respectively. This week started like any other, but I had a crazy experience in my Tuesday class. One of my students threw a fit of serious rage and almost slammed my hand in a door. It was pretty scary, especially since the student is only 10 years old. Even more than the physical violence I could have experienced, what was scarier was the child’s consuming anger and a veil of a smile on her face throughout the entire altercation.  I ended up telling the student she had to leave early to go to her other after-school program where she waits for her mother to pick her up. I almost cried in front of my students. Needless to say, the event really affected me. I kept thinking afterwards: “But she’s only 10.”

I ran into my supervisor after the lesson. She knows me well – we went to school together. We have been talking about this student all semester and the challenges she has been presenting to other teachers, in addition to me. I learned that this student tried to slap another teacher in the face the day before. The common trait between the other teacher and me: we expect disciplined behavior in our classroom.

I see these kids once a week and have to prepare them for a concert in early June. If they are  goofing off for even 5 minutes we lose precious time. Don’t get me wrong, I want my students to have fun, but I also want to produce results. So it can be understandable to almost anyone how frustrating it would be to have a child in class who a) picks fights with other students and the teacher, b) walks around and does her own thing, c) talks over the teacher and other students, d) mumbles under her breath (this really gets me…now I know why it bothered my parents so much when I did it in high school).

The student is a serious challenge, and I have no doubt she is acting out because of something that is going on at home.  However, I learned from my supervisor today that, as early as the first grade, this student has been considered a “sociopath”:  she was downright mean to students and did not care about the consequences of her actions. This is what I saw in my class the other day. What would have happened if she slammed my hand in the door? What would I have done? Would she have reacted or just run away? These are scary questions, but they keep rattling around in my brain. (I also considered why I was not notified of her behavioral issues, but perhaps that is another post).

What do we do when a student is really behaviorally troubled? How do we help the family to deal with it? How do we protect the children who are targets of a child like this? How do we help the child to find some relief? I feel for this little girl, but I also understand now that she needs real help, and its more than me just indulging her whims in the classroom.

As of right now, the student’s punishment is a suspension from my music class and from band. It is something that she loves and we hate to use it as a weapon, but it might be a powerful way to get through to her.

Has anyone else had a student like this. If so, what have you done?

Just a note: I did find some helpful books on the topic. Some are in the library.