-watching myself – build resistance in a blink of an eye –
A student walks into the testing room with all the bravado of a boxer. He smiles to the crowd of 6 other students expecting a fist bump from each. His chest is buffed out and his voice is loud with an edge of anger. A glare at me told me he was planning to be in control of the room.
In my last few years of teaching, in a high poverty school, my classroom had many of these students. This behavior almost always led to a fight – fists flying or language sailing about the room. Language was said that you did not want to hear or have repeated. Most times I was able to settle the group or move the fighter to a place where they could settle themselves and then rejoin us as a member not as an instigator of trouble.
There were times – too many times – that a student with problems beyond their ability to control would move to the next step of fighting. There I was working to keep fists down, voices down and everyone calm. I was also working to not get physically hurt in the process. Over time I found myself jumping to action mode as soon as a voice would rise, a movement of hands or the posturing of a body. It was as if I was ready to fight back just like the students.
After years of teaching in this tense situation it was my go to response. It felt a bit like a very mild PTSD. My nerves were on edge and my reaction was to quick and sometimes not as skillful as I would have like.
Now years later I had thought I had worked through those moments. I had let down my guard and relaxed. Today showed me that the tension built years ago takes a long time to dissolve. I was ready in the blink of an eye to stop this action, to remove this young man from our room.
He and I met eyes. He slowly retreated. I quickly switched modes back to quiet directions and placement of students at their computers. We moved forward together, he and I. He choose is own place to sit – I let him. He began before he should have. I let him. He completed the test and took a short nap while others were still working. I congratulated him when I sent him back to class for working well and staying calm. We made it through – although my nerves could feel that long ago jolt of adrenaline and the edginess that comes as a fight or power struggle begins. We both had remained calm.
What must it be like for those adults who have gone through war, abuse or the children I see each day who come from war torn countries? They are struggling to understand the world around them, new customs, new language and old emotions coursing through their nervous systems.
My heart goes out to them each day as they navigate this world. My hope for them is that they can calm themselves and learn to live and move beyond the history of power, fear and violence. It will take time I realize as I see my own small struggle to not jump into resistance and power play.