Friday, September 4, 2015

Mini-Melties

     I made it four days before my first student had a panicked melt down. Four days. That may seem kind of quick but not in my world. Through the years, these mini-melties erupt occasionally but don't need to become a full-blown Vesuvius.  There are practical steps to help a student avoid the melties and feel a release of the anxiety that often accompanies this emotional situation.
     Students are stressed. In my world, I see this stress more often than not. These kids have multiple pressures tugging at them. One boy in my class was accused by his mom (off her meds) of trying to kill her so she kicked him out of the house. He's currently working full time, and doing a terrific job there, while sofa surfing at night. School? He came the first day...
     Other students work full time, pay their own bills, are trying to graduate, help support their families and have little to no down time. This was the case of my first meltdown student. She stayed after to talk to me and slowly her poise evaporated and the situation escalated as she talked about not understanding the reading material, not being able to do the paper, not following all the characters, not happy at all at where she was at.
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     So how do you handle a kid in crisis? The first thing is try to de-escalate the situation. In a calm, soothing voice I told her I understood how she was feeling and how frustrating that must be. Then I asked her some questions/offered some options. This girl was feeling trapped by an assignment she felt overwhelmed by--it's important to offer options so kids feel there are escape routes.
     We went through a myriad of choices, each one being defeated or deflected by this student. Her anxiety level was rising again so I told her we could talk about it tomorrow. I told her I'd work on something that would lead to her success, some options she'd be able to understand and experience success with. In the meantime, I suggested she talk to the counselor to solidify her credit count and ease her fears that she may not graduate this year.
      De-escalating a situation and calming the student down are imperative in keeping a relationship with the student. There's no room for territorial behavior (hey, I like that assignment--it's not too hard--you just need to work harder). This type of attitude merely exacerbates the situation. The focus should be the student, not a kingdom of work.
      So today I'll be talking with this student and making a plan that fits her abilities while still challenging her academically. Do I expect dramatic growth in her? Not dramatic, but growth, yes.
 It's my job to see how she can achieve that growth in the least threatening setting.
     I'm no psychologist, nor are most educators. However, without some common sense approaches to stressed out kids, we can alienate them forever and they will shut you down and out as a teacher. I'll make concessions. I'll encourage her and give her assignments on a scale where she can feel success.
     We all have mini-melties at times. But how those emotional outbursts are handled can determine the atmosphere in your class for the coming year. If other students see you take a teacher-centric approach, this will damage your relationship with students. "Oh, typical teacher." will be their attitudes. But if you actively work with a student to find alternative material while assuaging that student's fears about the class, well, other students will see that and feel safe in your room. They'll know that people matter more than material.
       Melties happen. Just make sure you have the right extinguisher to put out the fire. How you handle it will impact not just you and the student but your whole class. So check your Super Teacher tool belt and look for the gadget labeled "Soft Voice" and "Soothing Talk." Use these on the melties and it will make all the difference.

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