As a high school English teacher in the Netherlands for more than ten years, I've had my share of teen disruptive behavior in class. Thankfully, my daily experience has enabled me to develop strategies for dealing with disorderly conduct that will, ideally, prevent it from occurring or, when it does pop up, swiftly take care of it. Key in my approach are genuine respect, tact, positive expectation and a sense of humor.
This school year I have been entrusted with a new task: that of team leader. I've become responsible for the daily operations of a group of five classes - 130 students. Now, when a fellow teacher in my team is dealing with a particular student's disruptive behavior that colleague may call on me, expecting my full support. The student, because of his/her conduct, has to report to me as well, expecting a fair hearing.
Often, after talking to me about what happened, the student will understand where they got off track and a small disciplinary measure will be all that is needed. But sometimes I'm faced with a student, like this particular 16-year-old boy I'll call David, who has no idea, or so he claims, why his behavior was judged unacceptable. He'll come to my office feeling indignant about being sent out of the classroom. He'll flaunt his outrage at disciplinary measures among his classmates, causing other students to follow in his footsteps. Although he has agreed to support of all kinds offered by the school - such as study guidance and homework class - he completely ignores the advice given instead of implementing it.
Bridging the Gap
This boy David is clearly on a fast route to expulsion from school. Even so, I'm still having to discuss matters with him, guide him through the unhappy steps he is apparently bound on taking. How can I do this in a way that does justice to our shared identity as spiritual beings, temporarily traveling this earthly plane in bodies - bodies that seem separate from each other and that engage in such varied behavior that their owners often become even more acutely aware of their separation? My task is bridging the gap that has opened right in front of me between David and myself. How far can my usual measure of genuine respect, tact, positive expectation and sense of humor take me, take us?
Not far enough, I'm afraid. I'm sure the answer lies beyond the realm of separate bodies and separate behaviors. It must lie one step up, in the realm of mind where we are connected and one (or so various sources claim). How do I get in touch with that realm at the very moment that David is sitting in front of me, fulminating about the injustice done to him, denouncing the teacher who sent him to me?
A Thin Line
I'll let him talk, let him vent. I'll practice active listening on him, mirroring back to him the things he is saying. After all, I am his teamleader, too. But in each of these conversations there comes a moment that I'm having to be the brick wall that he is crashing into.
It's a thin line I'm having to walk: on the one hand be a fellow human being with a vision of unity despite appearances, and on the other hand, as a teamleader, be the embodiment of school rules and customs that need abiding by.
The way to walk that thin line the best I can has been to practice mindfulness: letting the light of my presence shine on the both of us while we're having an exchange. It helps me stay calm and centered, adhering to the school guidelines, while at the same time reaching out to him as a person that I truly respect and expect the best from. It means I'm having to relinquish my personal agenda regarding the situation and the school community. I'm having to totally and irrevocably focus on his spirit and on the field of communication we are creating together, equal spirits, at one in the sight of God.
Is this approach sowing the seeds of harmony and peace? The proof of the pudding is in the eating - in other words: has this approach affected David in a positive way? I wish I could say that he has changed his attitude for the better, but mostly he hasn't. He remains resentful and outraged at the disciplinary measures taken against him. He still feels strongly revengeful towards the teachers and other adults who seem out to get him, with one exception: he is respectful towards me, as I am towards him. In the given circumstances that is perhaps all that can be hoped for.
I pray and hope that at some future time David will think back on his time in high school. I hope that he will then remember the field of courteous, constructive communication that the two of us were able to create together. And I pray that this memory may then serve as a seed that will come to fruition in his life.
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