Out of respect, all the names of the people I work with & for have been changed.
3. The smile on his face stretches further than his earlobes and makes his eyes squint near closed. An off-shoot of the Joker’s illegitimate son, he laughs without the smile budging. You would only tell his diaphragm is pushing by the rapid-convulsing of his chest from the uncontainable giggles hiccupping from him. All I can do for him now is watch over him and correct his path when it diverges from the thick straight line academia has set for him, here at Hawthorne. No, Hawthorne is not the real name of the middle school I work at, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Hawthorne sounds like an old dead white guy that possibly did something worthwhile in his lifetime, enough to be championed after a middle school, bridge, or building.
Back to Nathaniel, with the smiling, immutable giggling, twitching movements and such… He’s 11, three times the age of Sid, and is growing into man-strength with each passing adolescent hour. I’ve contained kids who haven’t grown as quick as Nathaniel, or were just generally younger than him, who were easy to physically restrain when/if an outburst occurred. Restraining Nathaniel intimidates me. Not for fear of what he’d do to me, but of the amount of force it would take to calm him down.
This isn’t everyday for Nathaniel. Usually he’s self-controlled, calm, easy-going… However, circumstances today have conjured different. After a sleep-over with a friend last night, Nathaniel missed taking his medication. While I keep an eye on him in his physical education class, one of the paraprofessionals arranges to take him home to pick up his meds.
2. He sits in a chair atop a plethora of torn papers like a mad scientist given up on recent plans for world domination. Relative to pupils dialating amongst sunlight for the first time in days, he shudders at the sight of me- disgusted with sight of me- literally twitches his face from any view of me. Silence fills the small slice of atmosphere between us.
I know why he’s here, but I ask anyways “What’s goin’ on?”. “They put me in here for no reason. I didn’t do anything.” He divulges his story to me. Quite complex it is: blame, physical retroaction, and an error of total miscommunication.
He finishes his story, I strike to the point: “What are all these papers doing on the floor?” He explains he tore his math book to shreds after the debacle occurred between him and authorities.
“Larry”, as I lean in. He finally turns to me. “Your in the 5th grade. Does that look like something a 5th grader would do?” He replies with a small “no”. “Actually I might be painting the picture too broad, here. Does this look like something Larry would do”. He replies again with a small “no”. “You goin’ to junior high next year? Because things like this don’t get better.” I grab a piece of the torn papers on the ground and begin to draw a diagram. In the middle I write “Larry”, and to the bottom right of his name I write “general”. Then to the bottom left, I write “personal”. I detail the words with lines and arrows. “See this- these are your options. In the split second before they place you in here again, if it happens, these are the first two choices you can make before it all goes down. You either take it personal, or you let it roll off your shoulder- let it slide into the general bucket of things people say, do, reply, etc. As time goes on, you’ll get better at making the initial discrepancy between the two, but what I’m afraid of is next year- junior high. You get tested today, great- but in there they test you by the minute; social dysfunctions, hierarchies, status, popularity- it gets ugly. Kids excommunicate each other over fashion & arrogance. Yeah, yeah, maybe I went a bit overkill, or either flashbacked hard to my junior high years, but I had to tell Larry like it is. Learn how to not take it personal, now, and have the advantage to control your emotions later. You’re a smart kid, you’ll figure it out.” Stand up, push my chair back to it’s table, and get outta his bubble (which for Larry, is approximately 10 ft. On the spectrum, he’s spot-on Asperger’s. Eye contact, physical touch, or anything in their space is uber-limited. Where someone has crossed the line with me, they’ve already crossed it 5 times with Larry.)
He stops my en route to leaving the “Time-Out” Room he’s been placed in…
Sidenote on the “Time-Out” Room: I don’t really have any other words for it. It’s the room right next to the classroom I work in. Commandeered by an elderly woman with a straight gangster demeanor and a no-tolerance game face for bullshit, backtalk, and blame. Putting it sweetly, she doesn’t f--- around. We’ll call her Ms. 100 in honor of the “Time-Out” room from my alma mater middle school, Jefferson Open. The “Time-Out” Room was Room 100, all feared, none returned from it the same.
... “Hey, once I learn Japanese, I think I’m going to go to Japan for a little bit”. “You’re learning Japanese?” I reply. “Yeah”. Larry doesn’t lie. He’ll hold to his perspective on an issue, but he won’t intentionally bend it. So when he says he’s learning Japanese… the kid’s teaching himself Japanese. I leave the room, the door swings a sliver to show him fidgeting with the piece of paper I’d drawn on. Christ, that kids a genius.
1. He swings his knee to snap the toe of his foot towards the thin make-shift wall. BOOM BOOM BOOM goes the rage of Tetsuo. He’s stalled out on his writing work for over 30 minutes, and we now have to take him to Room 100. Sometimes Tetsuo enters calmly, sometimes like a raging bull. Today it’s the bull. Ms. Finnegan demands him to stop kicking the make-shift wall before it goes down in splinters. I pull him away from the wall, he twists back to kick the other wall, Ms. Finnegan grabs his legs and demands he stops. I stay mute. Words at this point don’t count for s--- in Tetsuo’s book. He won’t have them, their weightless. Only action speaks. His only translation to say f--- you to the academia that’s failed him so far, is to make noise, defy whatever’s ben told him, and break a m-----f------n wall to pieces. I’d do the same… if I were still 9.
The fit continues, escalates- at this point Ms Finnegan and I have wrestled Tetsuo to the ground. He’s screaming at this point, as a mute child enters Rm. 100 to spectate the public rage being restrained. The mute kid begins slapping his belly, making inaudible words & grunts, all the while smiling. His paraprofessional grabs him quickly to take him to another alternative space. However, the fire continues from Tetsuo.
We remove his shoes, so kicking isn’t an option, hold him by his arms, so to keep ourselves from getting decked- the big “but” is we can’t keep him from banging his head against the wall. I can scoot only so much while sitting on the floor holding his arms. Ms. Finnegan is occupied enough with holding his legs without catching a heel to the chin. Tetsuo seems to maneuver his head into the wall no matter what we try. Finally I muster him to the center of the room, on a wall-less oasis where he the fit can subside… and then his body twists- for one last energetic push to flail out of our grasp, Tetsuo maneuvers yet-again his head into a wall. At this point, the fit has gone beyond emotion, and has turned to physical- deprication. I notice, for a split second at a time, Tetsuo’s eyes roll back into his head every time he bangs it against the wall. It’s almost as if he’s getting off on the pain.
By simple coincidence, Ms. Grey, a staff member swoops to the rescue. She shifts herself into sitting against the wall Tetsuo had favored and begins rubbing the temples of his head. “I wanna bang my head against the wall!!!! I can do whatever I want!!!! I’m going to bite you!!!! I will bite you!!!!”, screams Tetsuo.
Ms. Grey administering the head massage, “Does banging your head against the wall feel good?” “It calms me! It makes me feel better!... (sobbing)”. Tetsuo’s anger begins to dethrone. He comes back to us, still wrapped in my arms, Ms. Finnegan now letting go of his legs, and Ms. Grey still giving him a head massage. She asks him what pressure points help, and which ones he usually tries to hit when he bangs his head against the wall. Tetsuo and Ms. Grey dialogue until he’s broken down to simple sobbing.
Call it empathy, sympathy, or the reality of holding a 9 year old kid kicked out of several institutions on his last academic leg at an absolute emotional stand still… weeping for his own self-control and the giant misinterpretation between him and everyone else, but I begin to cry as well. Neither Ms. Grey or Ms. Finnegan notices- hell I don’t even think I noticed- on the precipice of tears and emotional control, I pull it back together, watch Ms. Grey do the talking, and suggest that Tetsuo finish his homework once the moment has plateau’d.
0. Since working with Sid had gone so well at the Pre-Kindergarten, my higher-ups had suggested me to mentor a kid in the middle school nearby. The kid I was assigned to was Tetsuo, but in the effort of maintaining the peace amongst his entire class, the assignment has blurred to pretty much every kid and situation in the classroom. If you had to pin point it, the assignment’s entirety is to create a successful means of communication between teacher and student. The reason why most of these kids are in my room is because of a frayed line of communication between teacher-agenda and student-agenda.
Walking Nathaniel from physical education to his music class, a kid stops us in the hallway- “Are you Nathaniel’s father?” I give him an emotion-less face and reply “no”. “Then what’s your name?”… again with the emotion-less face “Don’t worry about it”.