Pupils with PTSD, teacher with mindfulness

So, this week I read in one class’s Whats App group, that I don’t know how to get mad.

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stop, pause and continue.

This was an interesting comment and brings me to think about how I appear from a student’s point of view, or at least that student. Who is the student, one might first need to know.

He was presented as someone with problems, who can fly off in outbursts of rage and that as teachers, we are not to yell at him or go ‘head-to-head’. We were told to leave him alone, and to respect his learning accommodations so that he could function at least during tests.

This particular student made the decision with his parents’ agreement to join our Partnership 2gether Project, a living bridge connection between some of our 7th grade students and Bet Shraga school in Albany. We communicate via New Year’s cards, posters, internet joint projects, emails and of course through Web Conferences.

This said pupil conformed to the first few requirements but stopped at the 3rd and 4th. No card made, no youtube clip made, but he wanted to come to our meeting this past Thursday when we would be working on a joint Tu B’shvat project (birthday celebration of trees and plants) and then a Hangout with our partners in the US.

When I instructed them to pick a plant or tree native to this area, pupils got busy choosing and learning how to work with Google Slides. This pupil ,maybe I’ll call him “M”, chose a hand grenade. In Hebrew, hand grenade is the same as pomegranate. He thought it was applicable. I told him to get to work, and to choose a proper plant.

As I was walking around the room, I saw Tal, the head of the entire Partnership 2gether Project in our Western Negev area, take the computer from M and tell him that he was formally out of the project. M got up, kicked the computer cupboard and left the building.

A few minutes later, other pupils started to say, ‘Hey! My picture disappeared.’ ‘Mine, too’.  and more voices chirped in until someone said – ‘It’s probably M!’

I went outside to inspect. Sure enough, there was M, reclining on a bench outside the Grade 7 building with his phone in hand, clicking onto a picture and pressing delete. I looked, uttered a reproof and quickly took his phone to prevent further damage.  I went back into the classroom and removed his name from the joint Google slide file.

He came in, took his phone, left and as we all prepared for our Hangout trans-Atlantic conversation, another pupil came to me with a Whats App conversation in his hand. ‘Judih, look at this! Take him out of our group!

Then the phone rang and I got busy answering.

While the phone rang and my US partner and I worked out the bugs, apparently little M was busy trolling our whats app group. I  removed him from the Whats App group and carried on.

We spoke to the kids! The kids introduced themselves, said thanks for shared Chanukah cards and were happy to talk. We then presented the Tu B’shvat idea – ours and theirs. And we signed off.

Meanwhile, M decided to take his complaints to my regular English class whats app group. He explained that for no reason, he had been removed from the Project group. He had done nothing. Then, only because I was incapable of getting mad, I took his phone.

When I spoke to his homeroom teacher, I reported some of M’s chosen phrases to post in our chat group and I was told that the things he said were typical (calling us all “Hitler lovers” and “may you all burn”). I was advised to update M’s mom and especially emphasize the fact that his phone was a key player in the drama.  (The phone being a sensitive object in M’s life)

M’s mom informed me that his use of a hand grenade as an object for focus is a known phenomenon with him. She told me that he’s PTSD and in any situation remotely possible, he’ll revert to weaponry to express himself.

This was new to me. No one had previously mentioned this. One would think that a pupil having PTSD would be information worth sharing with his teachers. But now I knew.

And as I ponder how to deal with this student, I recall his words that I don’t “know how to get mad.” I wonder what constitutes getting mad. Is getting mad yelling at them, turning red? Is getting mad punishing them till they want to shrivel into worms? Is just a little punishment considered getting mad?

If M is judging my show of anger in relation to his own, I expect I should start kicking computer cupboards and finding interesting curses for my students.  Kicking something is good, but only with protective shoes. Cursing might work if I can think of something in a Shakespearean style, perhaps.

Food for thought.

Thanks, for listening.

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