No Time to Yell
by Magdolen Guirguis Sleman
I have always been taught by my education gurus that yelling solves nothing. In actuality, it can exacerbate matters. This notion was engraved in my mind after meeting students like Anthony. Had I not checked to see what this student’s IEP stated, I would have never known that he suffered from passive aggressiveness and opposite defiance disorder. What this ultimately means is that Anthony can hold in his anger and try to portray that he couldn’t care less about your concerns while also purposely doing the opposite of what you ask of him. To add to this “bad cocktail,” Anthony observed that since fourth grade he failed every subject, and yet he passed every year. His observations led him to conclude the obvious: “I can do anything I want, and I still will pass the seventh grade.”
This unfortunate circumstance forced me to go into my bag of tricks to attempt to reach Anthony both personally and academically. I state “personally” first because I was aware, with Anthony and many other students I’ve encountered, that their main concern is not what a school report card states but instead what the people in school say about them. Anthony, by the seventh grade, had already achieved the labels of “loser,” “good for nothing ogre” and some students were really angry that this student passed all these years doing nothing while the others had to work and prove themselves.
He began the year with the quick and loud tapping of the pen on his desk during instruction. Usually my silence cues the interrupting student to stop, but not with dear Anthony. The students stared at him; some tried to warn him about my stare, but this was a great incentive for Anthony to continue drumming. Luckily there were a few minutes left in the period for the brave step that I was just about to take. Bearing in mind that if I had even politely asked Anthony to stop, I would have been ignored and things may have gotten uncomfortable. Thus, I chose to abruptly turn my appearance of a blank stare into one that was excited and ready to “bop to the beat,” and that’s just what I ended up doing. The kids laughed and also joined in the head bopping and hip moving to Anthony’s pen symphony. I caught a glimpse of an approaching smile on our drummer’s face. The bell rang and as Anthony walked out, I thanked him for his free entertainment.
The next day, before class started, I presented Anthony with some research I had donelast night concerning free and local drumming classes. I told him that he had some real talent, and I was surprised he didn’t have his own band. I encouraged him to look online for bands that were in need of a drummer. Anthony was looking at me as if I had ten heads on my shoulder, as if I were a freak of nature. I had surprised him, caught him off guard, and he did not know what to do with this feeling of acceptance, these words that complimented his ability rather than degraded his very existence.
Boy, was he in for more than a treat as he neared his seat. I had found a sound suctioning material in a teacher’s favorite place to shop, the Dollar Store. Yes, I went around the store with a pen, similar to Anthony’s, and drummed on whatever I thought would minimize the noise. I bought the loosely filled bean bag type of object and taped it on Anthony’s desk. I labeled it the “Drummer’s Pad.” I whispered to Anthony that I provided it for his convenience and that it would also help the class focus on today’s exciting lesson. Anthony did not pick up his pen to drum in my class that day.
Shortly after this incident, I told Anthony that I’d like to visit his home and tell his parents all the great improvements I’d seen in the first week of school. He thought I was kidding, but wow was he excited to know of my plan. Our relationship had taken a new direction; there was now rapport, dialogue, and trust.
It took approximately a month for Anthony to own a notebook, write notes with his drumming tool and take out a textbook. That deserved yet another house visit. Just think, if I had used those last five minutes of that first class period to yell, I may never have seen Anthony give his education a chance.