One year I had a run-in with a parent who told me that I was the "worst teacher that ever walked the face of the earth." We had just posted a cast list for the play Schmidler on the Schmoof (I've changed the name of the play to protect the innocent.) I probably WAS the worst teacher on earth right then because I was directing, going to school full time to get my MFA, and raising thousands of dollars to take a group of kids to Scotland. She sent me a note that included: "I understand you still live with your mother, no wonder you don't know anything about kids." She had left the tail on the "s" really long across the page, like a ssssssnake. Obviously it scarred me. I still remember what her handwriting looked like.
In my parent's wisdom, they built a house within a house. The upstairs (where they live) is nearly identical to the basement which can decently house a family of 8. (We know because it's been done.) They foresaw the economy of the 2000's. The prophecy, that their children would all return to live them, eventually, came true. At one time or another, we have all left the nest for a time, and then returned with our tail feathers between our legs and $3 in our checking accounts. I had less than $3 when I decided to go back to school and get a masters degree...and build a house....I was home a long time.
But in my defense, I actually LIVED at school. See my 2nd blog. Still... this disgruntled mom was convinced that I had ruined her child by not giving her the roles she deserved and I was going to hell in a handbasket for it. Apparently I didn't know jack squat about high school kids. They had "special needs," she said. Her daughter definitely had ... special needs.
If you don't have kids of your own, people assume you don't know anything about kids. Even if you've been teaching their kids for a couple of decades. What people don't understand is that you see the exact same kids with their exact same problems year after year and eventually you make these categories in your head and you have a label for them, right or wrong. They don't always fit perfectly but the labeling most often helps me help them. Ask me about a first grader and I'm stumped. Ask me anything about teenagers.
Here are a few of my favorite kids and the accompanying codes I use next to their names in the roll book and on audition sheets... wait....I hear you judging me. Believe me when I say, I utilize everything I can to help them. Especially their issues. These definitions are not medical terminology, I know nothing about medicine (be glad)...but my husband doesn't call me the "kid whisperer" for nothing.
- KDP. "The Kid with the Divorced Parents." That kid needs attention. Put him in a play and give him a cute dance partner. His mind will be on other things in minutes. You'll rescue him from home and he'll be much easier to deal with while time is healing him.
- KNR. The Kid with No Rules at Home." This kid is dangerous. This kid likes to gather a posse and expand his horizons. Be careful you don't sit that kid next to "The Kid With the Divorced Parents."
- KND. The Kid with No Dad." This kid will seek out a male example. If there is a male drama teacher at your school, you are in luck. Better hope this male is an outstanding member of the community. That will be your kids new dad, whether you like it or not.
- K2R."The Kid with Too Many Rules at Home." That kid can't really participate in drama because drama becomes the kid's new master and can't really compete with parents that want their child home where they can see them....all the time.... They are usually full of social problems too. I hope those parents like their kid, because they will be stuck with them... forever. House within a house.... call Kay Shelton.
- KHS. "The Home-Schooled Kid," (these last two usually go together) I always feel bad for this kid, because their moms will show up at the school dances. They traditionally become "loners" because they don't know how to play the rules of the social game. They eat by themselves or with their siblings. It takes them a long time to asimilate and sometimes, they never do. Again, see above "house within a house."
- SRK. The Self-Righteous Kid. This kid is arrogant and vocal about his relgious beliefs. Only hurts and isolates himself. These kids often come wrapped up in a KHS package with a little K2R for seasoning. If you don't cut the "swears" out of your play, you will most definitely hear from SRK's parents - SSRP - Super Self-Righteous's Parents. This child will (in 100% of the cases I have seen) turn on the rules one day and it will be as dramatic and intolerant as their obedience was to them. S.C.A.R.Y. Love. We must teach tolerance and love.
- KL. "The Kid that Lies." This kid will say anything to get out of trouble. If it's a Drama kid, those kids are chronic exaggerators. (I know because I was one) They LOVE to tell a story and get a reaction. Put that kid in a drama class and make him compete with other kids in this category. If for anything else, I love to see the cat fight. The "Drama Queen" will arise forth and join another category.
- DQ. The Drama Queen. This girl needs attention for deep seated reasons, but mostly because she just likes attention. She will usually break bones, be at the doctor constantly, create rumors...etc... My personal favorite is when she puts herself on vocal rest, and hangs a sign around her neck that says "Can't Talk Today - Vocal Rest." Who does she think she is, Adele? Yes. Yes, she does.
- KCO. The Kid that Just Needs to Come Out Before He Hurts Someone." Also called the Drama King. That kid is one of the most dangerous because all the girls are in love with him. He LOVES girls. He wants to BE a girl. He pays close attention to the girls and they love that. It creates M.A.Y.H.E.M. Never has their been greater drama in the drama department than when KCO chooses a BFF. O.Y.V.E.Y. Choke....cat hair everywhere.
- KHO "The Kid that Hurts Other Kids." This kid does not care about other kids. He is a world class narssicist. He also doesn't care if he hurts you, the teacher. Watch out for this kid he will make you cry too. Unfortunately, he needs you - to slap him - no just kidding. He needs you to find out why he hurts so it can be stopped. Sometimes this is a horrible situation. These kids usually don't exist in the drama department....for very long. Because of . . .
- KLE. The Kid that Loves Everyone. This kid has no love filter. Bu usually needs you behind them to pick up their pieces when they realize everyone isn't like them. They are naive. They are clingy. They will do anythiing you need them to do and then go backstage and cry when they aren't getting the love in return. This kid sometimes becomes an amazing stage manager...
- KNS. The Kid that Needs Strokes. DO NOT stroke a kid. Rule number one. Literally. ;-) But figuratively speaking, these kids are sometimes ignored and will do things, like buy pizza for the entire cast, and then not pay his activity fee. There is usually a reason for this. This kid might also be missing a parent at home or they might be an only child. You can divert this energy into a positive by getting them into a play and let them experience a standing ovation. You'll be stuck with them for life. They will do anything for the applause, even push themselves with private lessons. Remember this....
- NHNH. Nice House Nobody Home. The beautiful kids. Never dangerous, just focused on other things besides school. Sometimes they need you to remind them to put away their phones, mirrors, and hairspray before they take your test or go out on stage. They sometimes lack a serious GPA but they will always be serious about lipgloss. These kids sometimes have issues like bulemia and cutting. Sometimes they need you to figure out that they have very low self-esteem and might just be a KNS in disguise.
- KSBP. The Kid that's the Studentbody President. Might not come to class because he also thinks he's employed by the school. It's confusing to him why teachers don't just hand him a great grade for being.... G.R.R.R.R.R.E.A.T. He expects you to consider him for a lead. This kid needs a reality check. Give him a progress report every week, cast him in the ensemble and become good friends with his parents. They will probably fund your program or at the very least, send you a gift card to Olive Garden for your trouble.
- KS. The Kid that Sleeps in Class. Wake that damn kid up. Call his mother about his texting, IM-ing, porn addiction or Facebook fetish.
- KA. The Kid that Can NOT Get Anything Less than an A. Danger Will Robinson. Prepare for a fight. Prepare to be blamed for losing his/HER homework. Prepare to justify your test questions. Prepare to read papers that are twice as long as they should be. Prepare to have long conversations with HER parents about how wonderful she is at Parent/Teacher Conference. Prepare to give her a cheap A just to avoid all of the above situations.
- KJ. The Kid with a Job. Put him in the ensemble. He will be leaving rehearsal early every day.
- KUF. The Kid With Unnatural Fear. This kid might seize up when anyone is looking at him . He won't do you any good unless you can crack that fear with love and patience. I once had a seventh grader urinate in his pants infront of a class right before he gave a speaking assignment. I thought it would be good for him to just take a crack at it. I was wrong. I was a bad teacher that day. MAKE SURE you don't attempt to crack that kid infront of his peers. If he's a great singer...you might attempt to crack him one on one, you need him. If he's not, see what he thinks about the light booth.
- KNH. The Kid that Never Goes Home. This kid has replaced his parents with you. They are often the oldest in a big family. They don't get enough attention at home... OR...at home, he has responsibilities and would rather stay at school, at rehearsal, where its fun. There might be issues there, tread carefully. Never take this kid home, to his house, or yours. The best thing to do is make rehearsal a living hell. ;-) Easy enough. Make home look like heaven in comparison.
- KPT. The Kid that Plays You Against Other Teachers. "I can't take that makeup test, Mrs. Hall. Mrs. Hunsaker said she is going to kick me out of the play if I don't come to rehearsal on time." "Mr. Williams won't let me wrestle if you don't give me an A on my assignment today." "Mrs. Hunsaker said nothing is more important than this play, especially math. She said she hasn't used math since 1975. She said Math is stupid...infront of the whole school...over the announcements....every day last week...."
- AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON...
I had a student, a seventh grader, and he had Turret's Syndrome. Am I spelling that right? We'll call him "Greg." Greg walked around most of the time with his arms crossed infront of him and his hands resting on his opposite shoulders. The district specialist came into our class and taught us how to deal with Turrets. We were warned that he would have "outbursts" and that we were to ignore it completely. The student sitting directly behind him would simply have to put their hands on his shoulders and that was the signal his parents had taught him and he would stop, or leave the classroom and get it all out somewhere else. And that's exactly what happened.
When the first outburst happened, the entire class was ready for it. I taught "Speech and Debate" classes. There must have been 35 thirteen year-olds sitting listening to "persuasive" speeches when "BEREAVED!" came from the front row like it was being shouted at a football game. 35 kids hopped a little in their seats. 35 kids looked at this one poor kid and silence fell as it had never fallen before in that class. Even the current speaker stopped and took a step back. "BEREAVED! DAMN IT! BEREAVED! YOU STINK! DAMN DOUBLE DAMN! BEREAVED! TRIPLE DOG DARE YA...BEREAVED! BEREAVED!" I stood up immediately but did not get to him before the girl sitting behind him had gently put her hands on his shoulders, just like she was told. Then I watched Greg decode what was happening. He felt her hands, it was his signal. He calmed down immediately, but it was not without realization of what he had done. Shame flooded over his face and his lowered his head so far that his nose almost touched the desk. There were silent tears already pooling on the desk. We had been told to move forward as if nothing had happened. But I knew Greg knew he had had an outburst infront of his friends. I was not prepared for that. They didn't say that he would melt infront of us after he realized he had "done it" again. Boys rarely cry and that took me back a little.
I was a little freaked out by the incident because it was the first time I had ever seen this up close and personal. You hear about things like this all the time in teacher inservice, but it always happens to someone else. I was the adult and I needed to model "calm, cool and collected." I kicked my bachelors degree into high gear (acting), we got the speaker going again without missing a beat and life went on. I couldn't think about anything else but Greg until the end of the day when I had a chance to call his mom.
(Well.... I did also think to myself "I wish the worse thing I had ever said was 'Damn It.'")
Recalling the incident to his mom after school, I was surprised by her "cool, calm and collected" response: "He did, huh? How'd 'ya do? Good. That sounds right. I'm sorry, I wish I could say there was a warning signal, but that's what happens and now you know." As I was decoding the event to her I realized two important things. 1) Not a single kid laughed or fell "out of character." A few of them sat up a little straighter, but they were fascinated by the whole thing. They probably thought it was cool to get away with swearing in class and were planning ways to repeat the incident in Biology. But seriously, because of the special training, the class never once laughed at him or paid any attention to him during any episode after that. If you didn't know he struggled with that challenge you never would have guessed it. He was socially very adept. 2) He said "Bereaved." Did 13 year-olds even know what that word meant? I asked his mom about that and she said that when he was very young, he heard that word and became obsessed with it. So they told him it was the worst word a person could say, and never to say it again. Worse than the F word, worse than "fat." (That's the F word at our house).
She said it was too late to condition him out of saying "damn and double damn" because that term was too freely used in their house from birth. Heheheheha.....(At my house, a person might have Turret's and we just wouldn't know it to be any different.) They taught him that "bereaved" was a bad word, so that when he used it in his episodes, and they knew he would, people wouldn't call the police. Ingenious! What a great mom. There are so many great moms I've been privileged to know.
To my point...again and I do have one.....
3) Greg never missed a class. I would have left the room and never returned, but this kid, this little teeny teenager, came faithfully to class every day. The sheer bravery! Once a week or so, we'd deal with an episode but eventually, no one even noticed them...except Greg. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him how much it killed me to see him aching of embarrassment. We were not embarrassed, it didn't even phase us...we were just continually reminded of his bravery and his fortitude to come to school like everyone else his age. He's knows he's doing it, but has absolutely no way to control it, unless someone puts their hands on his shoulders. That explained why he kept his own hands on his shoulders when he was stressed.
I haven't felt very brave lately. I've been a coward. Truly. I've kept a secret because I didn't want people to feel sorry for me, or embarrassed for me and I denied people the opportunity to help me. I caused my own isolation and that's how we spin into depression. I feel myself in that spin sometimes and I can't control it. Bravery can sometimes mean that we allow people to put their hands on our shoulders..."To bear one another's burdens." I'm sick about my cowardice, but I'm a work in progress and sometime soon I hope to be as amazing as my awesome student Greg.
BK. The Kid that Gets Up and Meets His Challenges Head On, With Bravery, Every Day. You can learn something from a kid like that. A Brave Kid.