Sunday, January 2, 2011

Double Standards

This double standard, my friends, is what kept me from even considering teaching my entire life.  Despite the fact that my family contained teachers, lifelong and otherwise, since the tender years of elementary school (let alone much more voraciously in high school) I realized, "I would hate to say goodbye to groups of students year after year."  Let a dozen or more years pass, and here we are.

Fortunately, in my current position, I happen to have the freedom of grade levels, and furthermore it so happened that I had 3rd and 4th graders last year, and 4th and 5th graders this year.  No one really left me, except to a different homeroom.  And it's elementary school, so I see everyone during morning bus duty, lunch duty, the hallways, and afternoon bus duty.  They're everywhere, in the same way that high schoolers wouldn't be.  But the double standard still holds in crazy ways here too.  In some ways, even more strongly.

I'm in the middle of a training called Life Space Crisis Intervention.  I'm also reading the book of the same name for said training.  It's how to handle emotionally disturbed kids who have just finished lashing out ("crisis").  Picture a troubled youth who for whatever reason starts, say, throwing furniture in the classroom -- that's the sort of crisis this book is showing me how to intervene.  It's a very kind-hearted book; the whole thing is about affirming the student through talking about the crisis, draining off intense emotions, getting to the central issue and choosing one of six 'therapeutic goals' before developing a plan to reenter the classroom.  It is so serious!

Here is the thing:  You have to put your whole self, your whole entire self, into building a positive relationship with kids who have a history of self-destructive behavior.  No part of that relationship-building should be insincere.  You really, deeply have to believe in your person-to-person connection with this child, and build it up with as many nurturing experiences as possible.  And then, when things go terribly, terribly wrong, as they will, you cannot take any of it personally.  They will swear at you and say awful things and you cannot let it get to you.  The strength!  The strength through the injustice of giving your all into the relationship but the "it's not aimed at you, don't take it personally" through the hard times!  How do people do it!  How do they give and give and then totally remove themselves from the equation of these offensive interactions!  I get it in theory, I really do.  In practice, I have no clue how that's supposed to happen.

It's baffled me since the earliest age I could conceive of being a teacher, or a doctor, or a counselor.  How do you care and care and care and then ... not care?


Andrew said...

Hi Pamela!

I know it's been a while, but I was fascinated by your post and wanted to chime in to continue the discussion.

Haven't read anything about this sort of crisis management specifically, but I wonder if the sort of duality you're supposed to practice is the same kind of "making the personal into the general" one does during the grieving process. That is, you have to become very personally invested in order to intervene successfully, but you have to see the situation as pattern or generalizaton, totally unspecific, to come out of it ok.

I imagine it's like having kids of your own, and knowing that no matter what you do, they will have a phase in which you're *embarrassing*, or in which they *hate* you. The trick is realizing that so many kids go through that same phase.

Does that make sense? Do you think that's what the book is advocating?

pamela said...

Yes! And a fond hello and thank you! I think you have it exactly, and wouldn't you know it, it was only driving home from school today that I too thought, 'Oh, well it's probably a lot like being a PARENT, isn't it!' Oops! I half-ventured into a thought process like, 'Well, it's different if they're YOUR kids, right?' but that didn't hold much water, at least in my present non-mother state.

But yes. The grieving process interventions, being-a-parent interventions, and these crisis interventions are all so gosh darn altruistic and selfless. I guess my lament is less from practical confusion about how to shield yourself from sadness and offense and more from BUT THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE. I am a young grasshopper with much to learn!