He stares at me in silence, eyes cutting through me like knives. He turns his back, message sent loud and clear; conversation over, nothing resolved. And I feel my heart beat faster, my judgment gets cloudy and part of me wants to punish. Wants to give a consequence. How dare you turn your back, how dare you refuse, how dare you not do as you are told.
I could send him out, I could call the principal. I could take away, I could call home. I could punish, many probably would, yet I know that it wont solve, it wont make it better. I need a solution and that wont come from a phone call, a detention, public shaming through a behavior chart, or a lost privilege. In fact, it won’t come from corporal punishment either although some states still seem to think so. The answer doesn’t lie within the punishment. It hardly ever does.
So when we don’t punish a child, when we don’t force them into behaving, then what? When we lose the easy way out, and trust me punishing a child is always the easy way out, then what do we do? We worry, we reflect, we reach out to to others, and we don’t give up. We search for answers that may not be easily found and we realize just how inherently human we are. That it is hard to work with students who seem to take pleasure in finding every one of our buttons and then pushing them over and over. Just waiting for our reaction, waiting for when we will give up and finally dole out a punishment. That sometimes, even when you have been teaching for a while, you do not have all of the fixes and that when you are working with human beings there are no easy answers.
His back glares at me, seemingly waiting for my response, and so I clear my throat, clench my fist and say, “I am here if you need me” and I walk away.
That day I didn’t solve the problem. Complicated situations always take more time. In fact, I wonder if I ever will, but I know that if I had punished, if I had gone down my list of what to do that someone taught me in college, that child would not have changed. He would have dug his heels in and fought me harder. Because sometimes the kids that push us away. Sometimes the kids that fight us the hardest. Sometimes the kids that seem like they hate us with every fiber of their being are the ones that need us the most. Even if they find the hardest way to show it.
So I will continue to take deep breaths, knowing that tomorrow brings a new day. To realize that perhaps this is personal because it really is, because in the defiance is a test of relationship; how far can I push before the love is gone. How far can I go before this teacher finally snaps.
I am only human but within my own humanity I find my answer; don’t give up. Keep trying. Stay the course. Don’t punish but continue to be there. Continue to try. Sometimes simply not giving up is the only answer we need.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.