Teaching the 'Whole Child' Can Mean Coping With Violence

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I have no idea why this student chose to stop in my room one lunch period, or why he chose to confide in me. At first, he talked about things of little importance. I listened. Finally, after about four such meetings, I got the courage to ask about the scar. I say "courage" because I was apprehensive about this boy in black.

He explained that he had been gambling with some other boys about four years earlier and had tried to filch a dime from the pile. One of the boys had pulled a knife and cut his throat.

His answer sent me reeling in shock. But when he named his assailant, I was immobilized. I had taught that student the year before, and I had thought him very nice, certainly not violent.

If this had happened four years ago, I thought to myself, that meant the kids were only about 11 years old.

On another day, the boy came into my room swinging the ever-present briefcase. When he asked me if I knew what was in it, I said, no. I really didn't want to know, since I had heard rumors of the boy's activities.

"I deal drugs," he said, waiting for me to reply. But I said nothing. I was afraid of this boy who reminded me of a miniature Al Capone. "I got my piece with me too. I carry it everywhere I go."

"You have a gun in there?" I asked, indicating the attache case.

"Yeah," he replied, "You wanna see it?" As he unlatched the briefcase, I realized that if he forced me to see it, I would lose control.

"You know you shouldn't have a gun in school, don't you?" I asked nervously.

"Well I keep a lot of money on me and I got to protect my drugs," he explained. "I go all the way to New York--that's where my old man lives--I go to New York to pick up my drugs."

I asked him: "Do you live with your mother? Who takes care of you?"

"I take care of myself," he retorted angrily. "I don't need anybody to take care of me. I buy my own clothes and even give my grandmother money. I live with my grandmother, but she don't take care of me."

By this time, the boy was agitated, his face an angry red. I realized then that I was totally unprepared to deal with a hostile boy who bragged about carrying a gun and selling dope.

After school, I talked with the principal about the boy. He told me that the administration was aware of his drug activity, but hadn't been able to catch him with the drugs.

He added that he hadn't known about the gun, but he didn't seem shocked or surprised. And he told me not to worry, that everything would be all right.

How can one not worry about a gun? I was petrified. But shortly thereafter, two police officers escorted the boy out of the school in handcuffs. I don't know what happened to him, but he didn't return while I was there. The campus buzzed with the arrest, but the next day brought business as usual.

Teachers should be trained to handle crisis situations. The few psychology courses we take do not begin to prepare us to deal effectively with our students' problems.

We are told to teach the "total child," but when a child enters the room, we see a face and a body, not the child's home life, traumas, or dark secrets.

Even if we did have time to peruse all our students' records, we still would not get an accurate or complete view of the child's life.

Many teachers who have been attacked by students were not aware of the best way to control the situation. But if they were given inservice training for such crises, they might well be able to defuse and control them.

Certainly we would be better prepared to give aid to young people who are out of control or out of sync with their peers, as well as with themselves.

The boy who confided in me was a "street kid," nurtured on violence and "cool." I still wonder why he chose to talk to me. I have had many youngsters, often with horrible problems, confide in me, and I've never really known how to handle them. I feel totally unprepared to deal with situations that psychologists train for years to handle.

Mostly, I just listen and offer bland platitudes that don't help. When they cry, I cry with them. But what can tears avail a student who has the world pressing down on his or her inexperienced shoulders and who must struggle to survive?

Vol. 02, Issue 09, Page 18

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