April 23, 2007

More Than Teen Theatrics?

I believe that 90% of my students are screwed up. All of them--from the hood rats to the spoiled brats. They have issues. I remember when I was their age (barely) and for no good reason at all, I was often distraught and depressed. A lot of these kids have good reasons, but what can you do? My reactions to their angst usually goes something like this: "Your life sucks? Yeah, well, you're a teenager. Stuff happens. You'll get used to it, and then you can be an adult. Don't worry. Being a teenager isn't terminal."

Only, I have known a few for which being a teenager was terminal.

It seems like every day I see or hear things where I have to make a judgment call to decide whether it's normal growing pains or something more serious. Ahem. You all know what I mean. Write that down on the long list of teacher duties. Honestly, a lot of the time I block out a lot of the hormones around me. It's for my sanity.

So, today when one of my students turned up the drama, spiced with anger and violence, in a speech about his pet peeves, I had to assess the threat situation. Is this kid a danger to himself or us? Or, is he just making an ass of himself for shock value? (Thanks, pop culture.)

After class, I called him up to ask him if he thought his speech was entirely appropriate, and he informed me that he did not want hold back on his emotions and that he truly felt what he said. I understood, but argued that perhaps he could have chosen other strong words than threatening "death" to those who "peeved" him. He did not back down when I suggested a referral to the counselor. At that point I was wondering if the show he put on was for real and not a way to see how far he could push me. Nonetheless, I kept pushing him about the power of word choice, testing him by asking if I should be afraid of him if I were to cross him. He calmly and emphatically said that I should be afraid. Well, I asked, didn't I?

I did not feel fear.

I felt sadness.

I backed down at that point and told him I would refer him because if he felt so many angry and bad things inside he really needed to talk to someone. And you know what? He still didn't back down. Why? Because he got the appropriate attention from me.

Apparently when the counselor called him in, he admitted that he was trying to get everyone's attention by his performance today. And he did. It breaks my heart to think of the poor kid suffering through so much inside. I'm so glad I heard his cry today, but I can't help but wonder how long he's been crying for help.

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