In the The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, an airport official says that behind every case lies the person, the paper, and the story. The same can be said of discipline referrals.
Lunch was drawing to a close and I was standing outside my class watching the students be middle-schoolers. A boy ran up to one of my students, poured water over her, and ran away. I stopped him and after a short lecture sent him off to class.
In the meantime, the girl had hid behind a blind corner, and when he passed she poured water over him. The boy was quite mad and went after her. I interceded and told him to go to class and that I would take care of it.
I likely would have talked to her for a minute and let her go, but she grew hostile and profane and a couple of monitors came over. I asked them to take her to the office and wrote up a referral. Then I went and taught my class.
After class I had a planning period and went over to see how the referral had been resolved. It hadn’t. She was still in the office and steaming. The principal and I counseled her to try to learn some different tools to defuse an emotional situation; otherwise she would always end up being the one who was in trouble.
First she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh my God.” Then she rolled her head way back and stared at the ceiling in frustration and again said, “Oh… My… God!” Then she said, “This is so stupid, you all write us up for anything!” I pointed out that hers was the first referral I had written since school started six weeks ago.
The mood turned, and I’m not sure why, but she confessed that she’s angry all the time – that all the time she just wants to hit someone. Our principal told her that the Native American support professional, who provides academic and counseling services, had scheduled an appointment with her anger management specialist in a few days.
“I don’t want to see the specialist again, she’s stupid!”
Then she started tearing a little and told us that her mother died last year and her grandfather this summer. She’s living with her grandmother (the one, she confirmed, who just lost her daughter and husband).
“We haven’t set the table since my mom died, we just eat in front of the TV. I just want to talk to my mom one more time.”
We told her that the water fight was small potatoes compared to her grief. I asked if she was getting enough to eat and told her I always had snacks. The principal held her accountable by giving her lunch detention for a couple of days. She and I agreed that if she were still upset when she came to my class in the days that followed, we’d find an alternative, non-punitive place for her to spend the time. She chose to spend the next two days with another teacher.
After she had been back in class for a few days, she got in some more trouble – not with me – I think it had to do with a confrontation with a monitor. For that she had to spend a day in our in-house suspension program. In my school, that means she stays isolated with a single teacher all day. The principal asked if I would take her and I agreed.
During the day she mostly worked on the computer. I let her use mine and think that she kind of liked being in my work area. She asked if I had any food, and I gave her half of my Subway. Near the end of the day, I let her go to her art class. The principal was cool with that.
We get along now, lots of “Hi’s” in the hallway and the like. She’s struggling academically and has three Fs (including one in my class) and two Ds.
I hope she’s making progress with her grief, and I wish she could talk to her mom one more time, too.