A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a 14-year-old high school student, who attacked a substitute teacher at Cody High School, in Detroit, Michigan sending the teacher to the hospital with minor injuries. But, what happens when the roles are reversed and the teacher attacks a student and sends the student to the hospital? Well, it happened. In November 2018, a band teacher in California was charged with child abuse after he assaulted one of his students apparently punching a student repeatedly with a cell phone during class.
Marston Riley, a 64-year-old music teacher at Maywood Academy High School, punched a 14-year-old student after the student verbally confronted him and a fight pursued. What was the confrontation about? Mr. Riley asked the boy to leave band class because he was wearing an inappropriate uniform and in violation of the school uniform rule. But the student refused to leave. Also, it is reported that allegedly the student threw a basketball at the teacher which triggered the incident. Oh, I forgot, the teacher who is African-American was called the N- word along with other racial slurs.
Self-control. Why teachers, administrators, school staff personnel and paraprofessionals working with children need to have this particular skill set. Self-control is one characteristic that is needed in dealing with this type of population in urban school settings or even group homes and residential settings. As a professional, mentally, we should always be in control of our emotions which will result in our actions during a crisis situation, either positive or negative.
In my years of experience in working with at-risk youth and emotionally disturbed kids, I can tell you it is not always easy. Yes, I have been kicked, punched and verbally abused. But the worst and most degrading things that ever happened to me was to be spit on and called the N-word. I can relate, but I never laid my hands on a child. So what do you do?
First, always remain calm when dealing with a minor in this type of situation. Remember, you are the professional. Children are not thinking logically at this point so they act first and think last. Never go back and forth with a child verbally. It only escalates the problem and in most cases may lead to a physical altercation. The adult rarely wins in this type of situation.
Or, you can use the, “drop the rope” approach. This concept comes from the tug of war sport that pits two individuals against each other in a test of strength; a struggle for supremacy or control; a struggle to win. When there’s a verbal altercation with a student to correct the behavior there’s always a tug of war. Just drop the rope if possible! The student can not win arguing with himself or herself and hopefully, the situation will calm down. This leads me to my next point.
Second, call for an immediate assistant if the problem seems to be getting out of hand. Mr. Riley did the correct thing in calling for back up. Never be ashamed of walking away from an escalated problem. Never think that you are weak because you removed yourself from a situation. Allow someone else to step in and help de-escalate the problem. Even if you’re right, “tapping out” and letting others intervene is best for everyone. Remember this is your career and you don’t want a charge against you at the end of the day! Child advocacy laws will protect the minor most of the time.
Finally, use verbal de-escalation techniques as much as possible to diffuse the situation without getting into an argument. Even when I was being cursed out, yelled at and had items thrown at me, like the student who threw the basketball at Mr. Riley, I would say something like, “Okay, how can I help you?” or ” I understand that you’re upset that I asked you to leave” or “Maybe can we discuss this after class.” Or something to the effect of, “You’re probably right” or even, “I’m sorry.”
Listen, I get it! It’s hard and difficult to redirect behaviors when students, residents or clients reach this level of disrespect. But every time you step into that classroom or workplace it is your responsibility, as the adult, to role-model appropriate behavioral patterns that you want the child to model. A few things we can do to help in a crisis situation are:
- Watch your tone, volume and cadence
- Watch your body language and stance
- Personal space should always be 1 1/2 to 3 feet
- Never defend your credibility as a teacher, mental worker, etc.,
- Kids know how to push our buttons. Don’t take it personally