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Reacting. Part I
As I sit in my office, typing up all the late paperwork I’ve had accumulating since last week, I can’t help but think about people’s reactions to stress. And just that sentence alone, can be pulled apart and interpreted a few different ways: “I can’t help but think about people’s reactions to stress.” What is a reaction and what is stress? It could be almost anything for anyone. Some people react to triggers while others react to just about anything. Just exactly how is it that they react? There’s an array of different emotions that start off a reaction and from there the possibilities are endless. Its actually quite beautiful if you come to think of it, there’s no way of telling how someone is going to react. If they are going to be calm, sensible, logical in their thinking. Or maybe they’ll get angry, agitated, and rudely yet gracefully inundate our ears with the sound of profane language that only the lucky bystanders, witnessing this all unfold, can experience and bask in its awkward glory. Yes, I know. It's most likely going to be the latter of the two. But why?
So now the reason I started thinking about this in the first place? No, it wasn’t to feel overwhelmed by adding even more procrastination to my growing list of things I have yet to do or get started on. I really was working, typing up my notes from before winter break, when I was asked to help with our school’s well renowned defiant fourth grader. Not much background is needed; he comes from a rough neighborhood, parents split, nice kid, but troubled decision-making skills. Well apparently, today was no different and he decided to use some choice words with his teacher before she even had a chance to start the class.
He had spoke back to the teacher because he didn’t feel like taking a test that morning. I suggested he come to my office and if he wanted to be defiant and miss the opportunity to take his scheduled test he wouldn’t be bothering anyone but me in there. So, he grabbed his things and followed me.
Now for the past couple hours I’ve been listening to him bang his pencil, gargle his saliva, yell: “Yiipie!” for no apparent reason, breathe heavily, whisper under his breath and anything else loud enough to try and get my attention, and get me to react.
Well it didn’t work, or at least it hasn’t worked to his favor, because apparently, it’s got me writing up a How To Guide on not reacting emotionally. You see, this kid really wants me to say something to him, and it can’t be that he thinks I’m going to be praising him for his disruptive behavior, so what he’s expecting is to get a negative reaction from me. But instead he got nothing. I didn’t respond, I didn’t react. I did my work and let him do what he thought he had to do.
He would look my way when whistling, but nothing. He would look at me from the corner of his eyes when banging his pencil on the desk, but I didn’t move. He would yell abruptly on purpose and then quickly turn my way to see what I would say or do, but I never even budged, I never even glanced his way, not once.
It might seem like I just straight up ignored this kid, but let me digress, this went on for more than twenty minutes, and why? Because unfortunately, my job doesn’t just revolve around one person but several dozen others at any given time, and as much as I would love to drop everything I’m doing and help this one little person with attitude problems, I know that isn’t what he needs. Especially when what he wants is to be scolded. I’m not about that, and I wasn’t about to start.
So, for that reason alone I let others react to his behavior. Trust me, it didn’t bother me one bit hearing his pencil bang on the desk, singing his favorite song or hearing him be just be so incredibly disruptive. But it did bother my colleagues, quite a bit.
I asked one person who works in the same room as I do, to try and be as silent as possible and if she needed to talk to me she should send me an email. Bless her little heart, she did her best, but the incessant noises coming from this fourth grader proved to be too much and caused her to react. His face was down, and he had stopped the noises, but I could see he was trying not to laugh as she gave him a lecture on how to behave in the front office of a school. She gave me a look of unfathomable frustration as she walked out and “accidentally” slammed the door. I let go of a small smile and resumed my work.
That was one person’s reaction to this student’s cry for help. And not ten minutes later the second one would come walking in. Because of course the lecture had proven to be ineffective and his joyful noise continued.
There was a total of about three people who spoke with him on different occasions during his two hour long stay with me in my office. They all had the same thing to say basically trying to get him to be responsible for his actions.
He eventually stopped, realizing he wasn’t going to get what he wanted from me. So he started talking, out of nowhere. Using complete sentences and enunciating the words clearly. I looked up from my computer and began to close the laptop screen as he turned his head towards me. Our glances met and with complete sincerity I asked him: “How do you feel?”
He started to speak and then fell short. He held his head down and went silent.
I told him: “It’s ok. Take your time. Just relax. I’m right here.”
He cried. He cried for about as long as he had been disruptive. And just like then, I let it happen. I let him have the time he needed to have a fresh new start.
Vice principal had come in three separate times to check in on him and every time he spoke a little clearer and with more confidence. By the last check in, the VP thought this student had learned his lesson and was able to go back to class. Before he left I told him: “Sometimes not reacting at all gives us time to think about what truly needs to be done.”
Later on that day I saw this student in the after-school program and he came up and gave me a hug. He thanked me for “not yelling at him” and for “listening” when on one else would.
I had let him know that I hoped he had learned what it meant to react responsibly to every situation and that how we respond or react to others defines who we are as individuals.
He said to me: “How I react shows others my true colors.”
We smiled and went about our days.
Part II coming soon…