I spend my days with kids. It has been that way almost my entire adult life. I have worked with families of young children, elementary kids, preteens, and teens. Through all of this, after all these years, my reactions can still surprise me. Come on and follow me to lunch, I'll show you....
It's Weds. that means lunch at 11:00, which is good. I'm starved. As soon as I can, I line the class up and we file (in a somewhat orderly fashion) into the cafeteria. Talking, joking, and messing around, students wait for their lunches as a few teachers oversee the lines. There are 4 lines, I watch 2 closely as my students are dispersed in this area. When the majority of my table is sat, there are a few loiterers in the salad bar line. I politely cut in front of the salad line, collect my lunch, trip across the floor almost spilling said salad, laugh with the few students who witnessed the near catastrophe, pay, and head to my table.
At this point, there are still long lines across the back wall - there are 400 7th graders in here (give or take a few). As I am setting my plate down, monitoring our team's lunch detention table and talking to another teacher my eyes are drawn to a crowd quickly forming a circle at one of the middle lines. You have seen this natural phenomena: a crowd seemingly subconsciously shifts into a roughly hewn circle around the soon-to-be combatants. I do not walk or jog; I run to the area. Sure enough student A who was on my team but is now labeled is in the midst of a brawl with student B.
I do not know student B and I do not care about him now. He is trying to flee the scene. I know that Student A (who I still see on Weds. am's only) has made a lot of progress this year. He is not perfect. I know he is at least partly to blame. He has little to no control over his impulses. But he has improved. He is salvageable. And he is a target because he allows himself to be drawn-in to the tough-guy thing, so desperately needing to fit somewhere. Without a thought, and without my torturous shoes that have now gone for 2 murder attempts, I dive into the fray. I am there in student A's face talking to him. Reminding him that he was having a great day and he is letting whatever idiotic thing happened to ruin it. He is so angry, he is trying to walk through me, even as he holds tight as a drowning victim to my arm. And I have to say, I would have been bulled over. Short of shoving him into a wall to keep him contained (which I can not do if I want to continue to work with kids) there is little I can do. He is so very angry, he can only repeat, "He jumped me," again and again. All I want to do is talk this kid down from the ledge and I simply would not have been able to if it weren't for another, very large, student pulling him back. Eventually help arrived in the form of a male teacher and together we were able to walk student A down a back hall to wait for security. The entire time I continue to hold, direct, and cajole him as we walk him to calm and then I do keep him at a wall as we wait for reinforcements (and my shoes).
Looking back after the incident, I did put myself in danger's way. I taught second-chance students for almost 2 years and I never had to put myself between the punches - because there weren't any in my class, but I would have. I am surprised. Not by the incident or my actions, but at the intensity of my need to keep these students safe. I suppose that in the absence of their own momma bears, I'm willing to fill-in as teacher bear.