On distractions

stressed-teacherToday was… challenging.   And I think I actually do mean challenging, I’m not using that word as a euphemism for “awful” or anything like that.  Today was challenging.

I have two students in my first and second hour class with rather profound disabilities.  They’re both well into the autism spectrum but there are other issues with both of them as well; one has some serious physical handicaps and one has a deeply problematic home life as well.  Of the two, one of them– I’ll call him Matt, since without a pseudonym this post is going to be impossible to write– poses a greater challenge.  Raymond, the other, is a lovely kid and a hard worker; the main thing with him is being able to get past his disabilities to be able to give him the education he deserves.  The other child, to put it kindly, must be managed.  There are days where he’s all there and he’s a student.  There are other days where it’s as if someone has unleashed an untrained, 115-pound puppy into my classroom. I know that sounds cruel, and I don’t want it to be, but it’s a pretty precisely accurate metaphor.

Matt was a disaster (again) today.  We had several weeks where we had his behaviors under control but lately he’s been acting up, throwing things, running around the classroom, running out of the classroom, lots of loud outbursts, stuff like that, to the point where I’ve had to have him removed a couple of times.  I don’t like to do this for a variety of probably perfectly obvious reasons but eventually he hits the point where I need to keep the educations of the other 28 kids in the room in mind.  He fled the room twice during my first class period.   The first time was just for a minute or two and he came right back; the second for a longer period.  When he came back the second time, he shoved one of my girls.  Now, my kids know Matt; they’ve been with him for at least three years now and some of them for much longer, so they know what he’s about and they’re not likely to react to him doing things they way they might react to other kids.  There’s a lot of his behavior that I can redirect or ignore.  I cannot ignore him putting his hands on people.  I tell him I’m going to have to write him up for pushing the girl he’s pushed.

“I didn’t push anybody!” he screams.  Screams.

“Yes, you did, Matt, I saw you,” I say.  The girls by this point are back in their seats.

At this point, Matt starts chanting “MORON!” at the top of his lungs.  At me.  Okay, fine, that can go in the write-up too.  Now, keep something in mind, and I hope this is obvious enough that I don’t need to say this:  I’m not mad at the kid.  Getting mad at him is pointless, because when he’s in his unreachable stages it’s just going to make him happy and under any other circumstances it’s just not useful.  But again: if he’s so far gone today that he’s shoving people I need to have him out of my room.  So I write him up.  This takes a minute; while I’m doing this, Raymond, who normally is not a problem at all, gets angry with Matt.  Says to him, in fact, “I’d like to strangle you for what you just said to Mr. Siler.”

This is also not appropriate.  But, again, I’m not mad; it’s not worth it.  I say something along the lines of “Raymond, threatening Matt isn’t appropriate and it’s not helping.  I don’t want you to talk like that.”

Raymond tends to be a crier; have I mentioned that?  He really doesn’t like it when he thinks someone is mad at him, so I have to be especially careful on the rare occasions when I have to redirect or chastise him to keep him from getting upset.  He gets out of his seat and walks toward me.

Oh, hell, kid, I do not have time for you to have an episode right now.

Keep something in mind: there are twenty-eight other kids in the room– well, probably less than that, since it was so cold I had some absences; let’s say twenty-three.  I’m supposed to be teaching them math right now.

Raymond walks up to me and grabs my hand.  Starts shaking it up and down.  Starts to say something.

And goes away.  For, like, fifteen seconds.   He’s still shaking my hand.  A little train of drool comes out of the corner of his mouth.

Oh, fuck.  He’s having a seizure.  I call his para over.  Nurse.  Nurse now.  His para thinks he’s still dealing with Matt’s shit; I no longer give a damn about Matt.

Long story short; they were both out of my class for the rest of the morning.  Matt was moved to an alternate location until he calmed down; I think the nurse checked Raymond over and decided he was going to be okay after talking with his father but I’m not sure.  Raymond has had issues with seizures in the past but this is the first one I’ve seen.

Go ahead; ask how much math teaching I got done during that period.


Later in the day; fourth hour.  You may recall some posts about the twins.  Originally the twins were both in my third and fourth hour block; it’s been decided since then that it’s best for them to be separated, so I have one first and second hour and one third and fourth.  It was explained to me (and not unreasonably, mind you; I didn’t fight this plan) that the theory was that this would aid in both of them developing some independence from each other, which they badly need.  What it has actually resulted in is that I get to have this conversation four times a day instead of only twice:

(Twin brings me a paper.)

TWIN:  I’m done.

(I look at paper.  It is covered in writing and arcane symbols that resemble no known form of human mathematics in any way; it has no obvious connection to any assignment I have given.  I have had the “I’m done” conversation before giving assignments before.)

MR. SILER:  Did you hear even a single word I said about how to do this?

TWIN:  Oh.  I messed up.  (Turns to leave, without asking or staying to hear what he did wrong.)

MR. SILER:  (Physically stops Twin.)  You need to <insert lesson here.>  Do you hear me this time?  Repeat my instructions back to me.

TWIN:  I need to do it.

MR. SILER:  What do you need to do?

TWIN:  My assignment.

MR. SILER:  And how will you do your assignment?

TWIN:  I don’t know.

Understand, please, that this is not exaggeration, that I have this precise conversation nearly word-for-word at least once daily with each of the boys.  Today we were working on creating bar graphs; a simple, one-off assignment that I can toss in on a Friday where we had a math test yesterday and I thought we weren’t going to have school.  (Yes, it’s connected to my current standards, boss.)  Here was the assignment:  1) Pick a theme; I suggested “favorite X”.  2) Poll all of your classmates on their choice to collect data; 3) Turn data into a bar graph and either a histogram or a pie chart; extra credit given for accurate pie charts since they’re sorta complicated compared to the other two.

Both of the boys, entirely independently of each other, brought me a piece of paper on which they had recorded hundreds of votes.  Both of them attempted to walk away immediately when I pointed out that there were not hundreds of students in the room with them.  Later, one of them attempted to turn in only one of the two graphs, which he’d stapled to his data (which they were supposed to do.)  I pointed out to him that he owed me the other chart as well, at which point he shoved the stapled corner of the pages into his mouth and bit the staple out.

What is this I don’t even.

This is the job, folks.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

18 thoughts on “On distractions

  1. Do you have other classes which are not so challenging? I hope so to balance out these kinds of lesson. As a trainee all I can say is pat on the back and thank you for sharing your experiences as I’m sure I have similar to come at some point and hopefully knowing that there is not a lot that can be done about these situations will help me cope. At the end of the day we can only do what we can do but pity the 28 who sat observing this who were able and willing to learn, it’s not very PC to say so but sometimes I think the needs of the many should be weighed with the needs of the few.


    1. I’ve talked about two of my three groups here; the third group is Honors Algebra, which does not have nearly the behavior/special ed issues of the other groups but are challenging in their own way. Much more fun, though. 🙂


      1. Thank goodness. I admire you for keeping your cool and keeping on. I can only imagine the frustration at not being able to teach. It’s not so long ago that such challenging students would be recognised as such and placed elsewhere permanently but then in the interests of inclusion and equal opportunities and such it became the norm to include in main stream schools and classes. I can see the merits in that but surely we have to be realistic about it. Trouble is it’s such a delicate area that nobody dare speak out about it for fear of being branded something they are not.

        I think if the other students are suffering and the student who we are trying to accommodate is not benefiting in any way then we seriously have to think about who and what are we doing this for?

        Spending a class, even one class, trying to encourage someone to learn is not teaching them the subject they are there to learn so one has to ask why are they there especially if it recurs regularly.

        I’m all for inclusion and giving everyone an equal shot but sometimes in our desperation to do that we’re not actually doing that.


  2. Heehee…I taught resource math and language arts (do they call it resource in other states, I wonder?) for 7 years, and this post actually brought back some surprisingly pleasant memories for me. (Of course, the experiences weren’t quite “pleasant” at the time, but looking back gives me a giggle.) I hope your Monday is a bit smoother. 😉


  3. I tried teaching for a short while, only of the ESL variety, although there were a few mental disability students in the mix, so I have some notion of your frustrations. My sister was a gradeschool teacher, much like yourself, for several years– both of us moved away from that industry because frankly, there wasn’t nearly enough support or pay.

    I ran from that that industry but I am glad you take the time to tough it out. Not everyone in your class will be able to take advantage of it, and even fewer of them will probably appreciate the sacrifices you make for them, but as someone who was too poor to go to private school myself and relied on teachers like you, I’d like to thank you on their behalf and on my behalf for sticking to it.


  4. You are a trooper for sticking through the days like that. I taught kindergarten for three years in a low income school and after my last year I knew I was too burned out/stressed out to continue.

    I remember chairs being thrown across the room, pencils and scissors being used to stab other kindergartners, having to make a rope with loops for the students to hold onto so kids could make it down the hallway in some semblance of line or just stay with the class, crying at my desk during the 10 minutes of naptime at the end of the day while I prepared folders to take home, literal shit in my classroom sink and along the classroom floor, having to hold the door closed while being repeatedly kicked in my shins so that a kid didn’t escape the room/school building while I waited for an EA to come remove her, same kid flipping my rocking chair over with me in it.

    It’s a wonder sometimes how any teachers ever teach the class anything.


  5. I teach first grade and… my days are not so different. Only, this year, I don’t have the kid who yells and throws things and runs off. That was last year (my first year in first). But I feel your pain.


  6. Great post. Question – maybe not only to you, but also to your various readers – has this gotten worse over the last few years? It seems to me disruptive behaviour in school – and the sad consequence of having our teachers have to invest more time in maintaining order than on actually imparting knowledge – is escalating. So where does it end, what does one do? I am very impressed by all those teachers that still stick by their job. What would we do w/o you?


    1. I don’t think things have changed much behaviorally over my career, although I can certainly tell that our current obsession with multiple-choice testing has screwed up the way the kids think. That’s a slightly different question from why you’re asking, though, I think.


  7. Do you think, if teaching could be done through ‘doing’ ie. music, painting, drawing, building, counting actual objects, etc… (and I don’t mean your teaching specifically- more as a curriculum) some of your students would be more engaged and better at perceiving?


    1. Some of them, absolutely, and if you look at the three 7/8 math teachers in the building you’ll see a wide variety of teaching styles. I tend to be less hands-on than most, and one of our teachers is hugely fond of manipulatives and other such things; there are kids where my approach is going to be more successful and other kids where her approach is going to be more successful. It does get a trifle more difficult to teach the more abstract higher-level math skills using concrete “doing” types of tasks, though, or perhaps I’m just not very good at it.


  8. Reblogged this on About kaiori and commented:

    When I was growing up, our classrooms had a special ed teacher for every child requiring special ed (one of them happened to be my cousin). If the children didn’t require as much attention, they could share one special ed teacher between two of them.

    Having a special ed teacher didn’t mean that children with and without special ed needs were isolated from one another. Half the time the children with special needs would be learning their own curriculum, but the other half of the time when they learned with the rest of the class, having a special ed teacher present meant that the teacher leading the class could get on with their class without having to worry. It also meant that the children with special needs received the personal attention and support required for them to learn.

    Budget cuts from our right-wing government have eliminated many of these special ed teacher roles. I don’t know what my cousin would’ve learned or if my classmates would’ve grown up without learning how to be kind towards people with special needs if it weren’t for those teachers. It still makes me furious to think about it. Teachers cannot teach without the necessary support.


  9. I knew I was right when I decided I would’t have to skills to be a teacher. Whenever I did any voluntary work in schools I would specify a maximum of six kids at a time – and I found that hard enough. So I bow in awed admiration.


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