I tested a new coworker today. We were working on setting up the classroom, and I was putting together the sight words for the word wall. The question came up; were we going to laminate these before sticking them up, or not?

She twisted her lips back and forth. While she thought, I said, “I have an argument for not, but I’m not strongly attached either way.”

“I’m leaning towards not,” she said.

“Ok. Want to hear my argument, or just stick with that?”

“Eh, go ahead.”

“Sometime this year, a kid is going to freak out, run over here, and tear all these words off. Some of them will be ripped up and need to be completely remade. If we laminate them the first time around, we will have to laminate them again. That’s more work to be done before the classroom is back to looking normal.”

Her eyes widened for a moment. Then she shrugged, and nodded. I was elated, because she didn’t get stuck on the part where some kid will inevitably try to rip apart her classroom.

I kind of like shocking people with my Special Ed stories, because I’m a storyteller, and I like telling stories that get a reaction out of people. But what I like even more is not shocking people with my stories. I’d much rather the world get past shock. I work with kids who have behavioral issues, which means that when kids in my classrooms act out, shock is the wrong reaction. In the best case scenario, it wastes critical seconds that you could be using to assess the situation, block the kid from the opportunity to do something more seriously dangerous, and figure out how to make sure their behavior doesn’t affect the other students adversely. In the medium-bad scenario, shock leads to panic, and a counter-productive reaction that makes for a very bad day for the both of you. In the worst case scenario, shock leads to surrender. Surrender is poison for the kinds of kids I work with. They know when you don’t believe in them, and they have a hard enough time believing in themselves.

Kids with behavioral issues aren’t helpless cases. Their behavior has biological roots, yes, but what grows from those roots is shaped by the reactions of people around them. Often, the most negative behaviors were shaped by people who didn’t intend to make things worse, but were simply acting on instinct, from a place of shock. I don’t exactly blame anybody for being shocked by tantrums and meltdowns. It’s part of basic human neurological wiring. But if someone has signed up for working in behavioral health and education, I expect them to come prepared to turn that shock response off, real fast.

The posters on the wall that we will have to replace don’t matter. The kid’s growth matters.

When I tell a story to shock someone, I usually don’t tell a recent one. I tell one about a kid I knew one, two, three years ago, so I can fill in the part where things got better. The kid learned self-control, or coping mechanisms, or communication skills, or got therapy for some emotional trauma. I want people to know that I work in a scary world, but also one where things get better, so long as you don’t panic.


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