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Sunday, April 29, 2018


Sometimes people act out because they feel trapped. Like caged animals, they see nowhere to go--their freedom of choice and access to needed supports have been challenged or eliminated.

As educators, we know that this is often how our students feel when they act out. They feel unheard and unsupported. They don't have what they need to succeed.

Children often give us a sign that they are feeling this way. They might arrive disheveled, angry, or unhappy. They might shout out or refuse to do a simple task. Also they sometimes write notes, draw pictures, or act in ways that signal their discontent, worry, frustration, and anger. As educators we have to pay attention to these signs, and we have to make the time to privately talk to students when this happens. We have to work with students to dissect their feelings and figure out what's going on and what they need.

A challenge for teachers is that they are often alone with large groups of students, and to leave many students to quietly talk to one can be very difficult given the multiple needs and complexity of class life. Recently this happened to me. A child presented with significant needs, yet I was tasked with taking care of a large group of students. I did not have the time or support to take care of the child's visible needs at that time. I watched carefully and was able, fortunately, to create a safe situation with the whole class and the child did settle in. Later in the morning, I had a moment to pull the child aside to have the needed conversation. Situations like this make me wonder if the one-teacher-multiple-children classrooms are no longer effective given the time teachers need to troubleshoot. Having a second adult in the room can make a big difference in this regard--should all elementary school classrooms have at least two adults at all times. I think there's good reason for this as then we could spell each other for restroom breaks, help one another with the multiple issues that occur, complete needed daily paperwork without interruption, and work together to set up and take down learning experiences too.

Teachers can also feel trapped from time to time. They can feel trapped or caged when they don't have the needed time, equipment, or support that they need. I felt a bit this way last week at the end of a science activity that resulted in the need to clean and store multiple pieces of equipment. I don't mind cleaning, and I'm happy to store the materials, but I don't have time in my schedule for an hour or so of regular dishwashing; I don't have a sink in my room which means traveling to a sink, and at that time, I didn't have the storage area for all the materials. Since then I've found some good storage space and I made time for students to help out with the dishwashing in a nearby teacher's room. I've also rethought the routine to make space for science activities like this that include time for students to help out with the needed washing and clean-up.

I also had a similar feeling when earlier in the week I needed support that was unavailable. Time was short, responsibilities were great, and the support was not available. I felt trapped. I got upset. I didn't expect this to happen. Now I know that in a similar situation, I can't expect support so I'll plan the events differently.

We will feel trapped from time to time, and our students will also feel trapped from time to time. It's essential that we dissect that feeling and make change to remedy the situation for ourselves and for our students. As much as possible we need to reach for and support schedules and supports that prevent that caged or trapped feeling for all members of our organizational teams. Onward.