As I begin typing this post, it's 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, meaning I can officially report that I survived Friday being one of the worst Mondays that I've had in a very long time. Teachers have our fair share of rough days and work related stress, but when I put my truck into park in my garage yesterday afternoon, turned off the ignition and began sobbing before even unfastening my seatbelt, it became very apparent that my limit, my breaking point, had been reached. Perhaps not so much met as exceeded. Yes... yes. That.
I faced the beginning of this, my twentieth year teaching, with curiosity, hope and energy. I had goals for myself and my students, planned engaging new lessons and activities, and put extra effort into creating an inclusive and appropriate learning, sharing, and growing space for my Super Stars. I took into consideration the traffic areas, work flow, and spaces needed for our daily rhythm and pace. I purchased new stuffed reading buddies, wonderful books, and freshened up classroom manipulatives, anchor charts, and organizational systems. I laid out our academic, thematic unit and special events calendar for August through May, making some tweaks here and there to accommodate changes in our report card and the possibility of having a practicum student in the spring. After determining that all of my school spirit shirts were still in great condition, I decided to set money aside for this year's Autism Awareness shirt instead. I made sure my students were flush with Play Doh, fun pencils, dramatic play essentials, and arranged our materials so that they were easily accessible. Accommodations were put into place, and intervention tools were ready.
August arrived. Introductions were made, relationships began to be built, needs were determined, and our trajectory was plotted with what I thought was only a hiccup involving a small group of students and their families. "Strong personalities" is how many teachers and parents characterize these friends, and there are many tried and true classroom management techniques and resources shared amongst us that consistently do the trick as we work to dismantle difficult combinations and create productive working partnerships for the benefit of all. With practice we become less me-me-me and more we, we, WE. We adopt rules and follow them. We aspire to be safe, kind, and helpful. We feel proud of ourselves and reap the benefits of growing together.
But this year's small hiccup in August and September turned out to be a problem that didn't respond to the tricks of the trade nor the interjections of various school-provided and privately obtained services as the year wore on. Patience, practice and caring haven't helped, and neither have love and logic. There are only so many corners and activity areas in the room between which I have tried to separate the members of this crew, and the sheer number of them have made it difficult for any teacher or staff member to divide and conquer, be it in the classroom, on the playground, or in the cafeteria. Role playing, social stories, lessons in kindness, sympathy and manners and many opportunities to practice appropriate behaviors have gone unabsorbed. Worse, the headlamp on the train of tough consequences barreling toward this core group of students isn't motivating them to jump off of the tracks to try another path. Instead, they smile (yes, smile) and dig in their heels, despite the deafening sound of the wheels on the track and the whistle warning them that the train is approaching at top speed.
Inappropriate behaviors haven't been grown out of, and they haven't faded away. They haven't been altered by praise, by teacher request, by the pleading of their other peers, nor the shunning by families who understandably have been very selective when planning play dates and get togethers. In fact, these students actually seem to enjoy inflicting themselves upon others, smiling as they damage, tease, defy, disturb, and cause injury. They bait one another, rise to the occasion, escalate situations, then smile, roll their eyes, and use other body language to communicate their intentions, much to the apprehension of their classmates. Even as young children, this group is nearly a gang, and they find it funny.
Parent response has been disappointingly unhelpful:
"We have no words, but thanks for letting us know."
"Yeah, we see that at home, but she just won't stop. We'll talk to her again."
"Are you sure he did it on purpose?"
"Oh, I can buy you a new ____________. Sorry he broke/ripped/destroyed your _________. Where can I get it for a good price?"
"We just don't see this at home, so we're having a hard time believing that her behavior is really as inappropriate as you make it seem."
"Can't you just separate them? Give them assigned places to sit and line up and tell them to avoid each other on the playground for the remainder of the year."
There IS good happening in my class. A lot of it. But not as much as there could be... as there SHOULD be. Nearly two-thirds of my students have spent a considerable portion of their kindergarten year running the gauntlet created by the others. Worrying over all of my students, those who endure AND those who inflict, has burned through much of my professional energy and drained me personally. Parents too busy to help, too annoyed or tired by my communications to respond, or possibly too inconsiderate to entertain the thought that their child ISN'T entitled to run roughshod over others have me wondering if the partnerships I've been blessed with in the past are at an end. My sweet Super Stars have learned that while I will do my very best to protect and provide for them, it comes at a price: my time and attention are over allocated to dealing with the demands of the others. The social/emotional needs of one group have robbed many of the resources that they too, need and deserve.
For myself, surviving the year doesn't feel like success. Plastering a smile on my face each day and chirping "good morning" in a cheerful voice can no longer hide the truth:
My twentieth year of teaching has been hell.