The Breaking Point - The Jose Vilson

The Breaking Point

by Jose Vilson on May 29, 2007

Today, I found out that, allegedly, a teacher physically assaulted a few students in his classroom. Just hearing that ring off my ear made me jump out of my Rockwells. What the hell just happened there? Then again, I look at his situation and say, “Wow, I feel like I saw this coming a long time ago.”

Which brings me to this question …

What happens when you’re just about ready to quit? Not to say that I am at this point and time, but how does one get to the point where they literally lose their minds in a really tight situation?

Usually, demeanor-wise, I try to stay calm as water … and about as unpredictable, too. After all, if the kids get a whiff that you’re not going to do anything, then they find ways to get under your skin and break your psyche. It’s almost sadistic in a way, but some kids take pride in breaking their authority figures down. A few of my kids even quipped, “I can’t believe Mr. Vilson hasn’t left yet; last year we made 2 teachers leave in the first three months.”

That’s a feather in my cap if I’ve ever heard one. Unfortunately, though, what that means is that less patient and caring teachers than myself, and there are quite a few, eventually find a breaking point where they either quit altogether or act completely irrational.

The first time I ever found that point happened sometime around April of my first teaching year. I broke down and almost didn’t make it home, I was so distraught. I eventually found the resolve to come back (5 hours of writing and playing video games did the trick). Even then, that was the most extreme case in which I felt the kids in my homeroom weren’t doing what they were supposed to, and I almost quit that very moment.

I can’t say the same for others, though. What happens when a teacher physically abuses a student? Were there signs before that that there was a sense of support for the teacher amongst his peers, teachers, and administrators? Were there tell-tale signs in the kids’ demeanor that might have given off that he or she was a potential threat to the kids’ safety and education? I often think about what could have led that teacher to get to the point where that sort of incident happened.

This is not to say that there isn’t a shared responsibility in all of these situations, or that there’s not this “innocent till proven guilty” clause, but we as educators need to think more critically about proactive solutions instead of reactive solutions. Maybe we need to intervene when we see the teacher wiping away their face for some reason, or when we see that first verbal lashing the teacher gives the kid, or when their language is that of a teacher who’s more concerned about their next check than their next class.

Most vital to our success, though, is when we reach that breaking point, we need to reflect on what our next action is, before that next one as our teacher is our last …

jose

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

LuzMaria May 29, 2007 at 8:58 pm

We all get to that point-first year of teaching or even seventh year of teaching. I push back on administration. It is not enough to say that I have a certified teacher in the classroom who knows and is able to handle every situation which arises. No, instead they look the other way and let this teacher, like the one you mention, just drown year after year. Kind of like waiting for something of this magnitude to happen in order to justify this teacher’s firing. Children will test you every step of the way. Once they smell or sense that fear, you might as well kiss your job good-bye. They will come after you like predators. But this is when there is a differentiation between a true teacher and a wannabe. Many think it is very easy to come into this teaching professionalm realm. Not once do they consider the kids’ sorroundings and immediate needs. I mean after all as long as Johnny can read, what else really matters. Real teachers would have never allowed a situation as the one you mentioned get so out of hand. We know when to pull back and remind our kids of the boundaries which have already been established amongst us. A mutual level of respect is established and the expectations are for everyone to be mindful of place, time, and manner. This also applies to educators, whom should know better at every level of this game.

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nyc educator May 31, 2007 at 5:27 pm

It’s sort of a kid’s job to test boundaries. That’s what they do at school, and that’s what they do when you have your own.

If you see a parent in a supermarket give in to a whiny kid demanding candy, that parent is going to listen to years of such whines. You have to set boundaries. That’s your job. Yours may be different from mine, but kids need to know where they stand.

If they don’t, they’ll be walking all over you. Stay calm no matter what you do, and never shout in anger. Shout for effect if you like, but it should be theatrical for the most part. If you lose it, they win.

And they just can’t do that. Because if they win that battle, they’ve lost any chance to learn anything from you.

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angelamichelle May 31, 2007 at 11:36 pm

i agree with luz maria and nyc teacher… it’s in a kid’s nature to test boundaries. it’s a way of learning independence and ability. it’s also a way for them to see who really has the upper hand in any given situation. it’s not just kids though. we do it as adult too, but by the time your “grown”, if the authority figures were “good” enough, most of that rebellious streak wore off… or you just got craftier than what you were up against.

in a perfect world, teachers would be able to cut off their humaness once they entire their perspective schools and clock in for their eight plus hours daily; donning that super educator cape and the ability to let certain things bounce off them like teflon. unfortunately, such is not the case. like everyone else, educators have their limits triggered by any number of things. most can deflect and be proactive. others can’t.

i do believe, within the community of teachers, each should be their brother/sisters keeper. if not outright intervening in the moment, then speaking to an administrator on the behalf of the teacher to see what can be done to save them from going off the deep end.

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Laniza August 18, 2007 at 6:39 pm

I’m glad that I went back through your archives. I just finished my first year and I remember my breaking point well. To this day, I’m not sure what made me come back but I did. Now that my second year is approaching, I need to go in their and show no fear, which, to me, is acting in the fullest. What can I say? I’m a natural softy, lol!

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