Surviving the Fire

The yelling, posturing, limit testing, and book throwing teenagers strolled out of the room.  As the last student left the classroom, my hand swiftly grabbed the door and slammed it shut as fast as I could.  Stepping away from the doors window, tears exploded from my eyes as rapid uneven breathing turned into sobbing.  It had been all I could do to not lose it in front of my 8th grade students.

This went on for days.

I dreaded 9th period.

A couple of days later she pulled me into office.  The offices low ceiling made the office dim, but cozy.  I had watched my Vice Principal talk to and joke around with the students in my class.  Barb was tough, but fair and the kids knew she cared about them.  She was respected.  She asked me to sit in the blue chair across from her large desk.  The fabric of the chair’s fabric prickled the back of my legs.  Petite is stature, Barb’s confidence in her ability to work with students, her knowledge and her experience never made you doubt her ability to handle herself.  You… the students just didn’t mess with her!  I needed no convincing that things needed to change.  Instead of reprimand or making me aware of my areas of weakness she offered me something.  She offered to teach me.  And what she taught me would change everything, forever.

She taught me how to establish guidelines.  She taught me four classroom guidelines that would cover any behavior I would ever run into.  Four guidelines that I still use to this day (13 years later) .  Guidelines that have become the foundation of my behavior management skills.  She taught me to create a classroom behavior modification system, using warnings and time-outs.  This taught me how to establish  and provide boundaries and structure for my students.  She taught me how to make a point sheet.  She showed me how to create a tool that would ensure my students would be rewarded for their buy into what I was doing and that they would know, feel and be rewarded for their good choices

Thirteen years later I can still remember the face of each of the six students in that 9th period class.  I vividly can remember the first classroom handwritten point sheet I ever created.  I can remember desks being thrown and books flying.  I can remember playing Monopoly or Sorry with them on Fridays when they had earned enough points.  I can remember the day it didn’t matter what it dished I could take it and they felt safe because of the structure I established.  And I can remember the day 9th period ended and  I did not cry.

I met the most challenging students I have ever worked with during my first year of teaching.  It was initiation by fire.  If you asked my husband (then finance) what he remembers from my first year of teaching her would tell you he didn’t think I would make it. If you asked me,  I wouldn’t traded that experience for anything.  Barb’s lessons set the foundation for the teacher I am today. That experience gave me the skills to work with ANY student.  It also lit a fire in me, a passion, a desire to work with the most behaviorally and emotionally challenging students.  It created the foundation of the teacher I am today.

I can only hope that the teacher I have become would make Barb very proud! 


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