Thursday, May 28, 2015

Days in a teacher's life

I've had an odd few days teaching. Over the years, I have had some bad and/or hard lessons and bad days, some my own fault, some external forces. Exactly two years ago, teaching the day my father died comes to mind as one of my hardest days. I've had problem students, even problem parents. I remember years ago one mother telling me I should hit her kid (who was only about 5) when he wasn't doing what he was supposed to in the lesson. I declined to do so, but I did once grab his arm and hold it rather firmly while I scolded him after he very intentionally punched me in the private parts and laughed. He didn't repeat that, or punch me at all after that, but I didn't need to hit him to get my point across. When I left that job he insisted his mother buy me a teddy bear as a goodbye gift, which I still have on my shelf.

Anyway, I have recently had a problematic student in two of my classes. My untrained assessment is he has problems with something along the lines of ADHD. Has had trouble following my lessons at all, even though they are rather basic and clearly laid out, trouble even staying in the room for the lesson. Has been repeatedly late or not shown up at all, and left the room suddenly on several occasions. Slept or played with his phone, didn't buy a textbook for either class. I talked with him about it at the end of last month, warned him he needed to change or wouldn't be able to pass the classes. Also offered to go talk with his advisor with him to be sure he understood. He declined, said he was fine, would be fine. After that we had a major quiz in one class and he couldn't answer a single question. The next week (last week) he was absent from both classes, and I thought he had given up.

This week he showed up, and finally had a textbook. I honestly didn't really have much patience left for him and wasn't happy to see him (class goes smoothly when he isn't there, not when he is), and I'm pretty sure in retrospect that he could tell. We did a review activity to start, which he had trouble with but which the other guys were helping him with. Then I did some stuff on the whiteboard, followed by a listening activity. While the listening was playing I turned my back and started erasing the whiteboard. Next thing I know, there is a loud crash and as I turn around I see his table is flipped over, he's violently thrown his pen case towards another student on the other side of them room (and it has shattered against the wall) and jumped up and gone after this other kid threateningly. He's accusing him of laughing at him and saying he should hit him, and as I try to get him to go back and sit down he starts yelling at me saying I never intended to give him credit for the class, that he should hit me, etc. In the process of then getting him to the student affairs office as that seems the fastest way to make the situation safe (but involves going several floors down and over to another building), we have more kicked-over furniture, him taking stuff from random people and throwing it either at me or towards me (not sure of his intent/aim), and then trying to restrain me from going into the office somewhat physically. Never actually punched or slapped anyone, but was very threatening and scary and did put his hand on me repeatedly. I was afraid for both my own safety and that of the other students.

It took some time (until the next day for me to hear the results), but the school ended up having his parents come (most 1st and 2nd year university students are minors under Japanese law and parents are their legal guardians), and there was agreement that there was a problem and that they wouldn't let him come to school any more. The school also agreed to change our classroom (at my request) and let the other students know by phone (not public notice) just in case he should decide to come back anyway. As I say, it was the next day before I heard the results, and that evening went home both traumatized by the event and concerned that they were not going to take him out of my classes. Spent a couple hours with my wife writing up all my notes on him into Japanese (I had basically had at least one problem with him every class that he had been there and had taken to making notes on it after the first week) as at that point I think I may have to go in and defend my stance that he should no longer be allowed in my class (as if the violent outburst alone shouldn't be enough).

Also, my wife was sympathetic on one hand, and saying she'd support me deciding not to teach there anymore if it came to that. On the other hand, she was kind of trying to make sense of it and talking about how maybe this was a way of him crying out for help and that he did it in my class because he sensed I was someone who would help, that I seemed like that kind of person. (She is a fan of this long-running TV show in which a high school teacher helps out his students who have all sorts of problems, but then that is a teacher who sees a small group of students every day and also has an expected duty of care compared to someone in my shoes who sees hundreds of students a week and usually for only 90 or 180 minutes.) So she ends up making me doubt myself and question if I could/should have handled him differently, been more sensitive and figured out what was going on with him, and start feeling guilty. As I write this it strikes me as just like domestic violence victims blaming!

Next morning I get up and shower, start getting dressed, and manage to throw out my back putting on my socks. It was sharp, brief pain, but I re-aggravated it a couple times in getting ready. However, I then was able to be careful and get through the day without setting it off again. But then yesterday morning it resurfaced, and much worse, and wasn't sure I was even going to be able to make it to school. I searched around and eventually found my back brace, which I haven't used in a couple years even when I have had issues, strapped that on, and took a couple pills in hopes that would get me though my morning of teaching. Well, it worked pretty well. The pills worked a little too well. Before my first period class I started getting a little loopy, and had to lay down for a bit.

Then I went to class, which is a really low-level conversation class. They had a conversation test, which involved them being called randomly in pairs up to the front of the room and then having to have a 3-minute conversation in English in front of their 30 other classmates touching on several topics we had practiced to this point. I was worried about probably a third of the class being able to complete it satisfactorily or not. As it turned out, only one or two stumbled significantly, most of them did it beyond my expectations (up to the standards I had told them I expected, though I internally doubted many would reach them), and a few were well beyond my expectations. I was so pleased with it that as I was telling them after they all finished that I was very pleased, I started tearing up. Not sure how much was the medicine, but anyway... My next class was a really high level class, where I gave them back grades from the previous presentation, which I wasn't as pleased with and had graded a little strictly. They were disappointed but also understood and accepted it. We had a good class, but I was a bit unfocused, and then had to rush out at the end for some lunchtime work. I later met one of the students who said they we're all wondering where I was going after that because I left quickly (I usually wait until they all leave the room first) and seemed really happy about something. Those meds were better than I expected, too...