It is my first class of the morning, after what has been two exceedingly draining schedules the last couple of weeks, after a weekend involving two consecutive 10 hour days for my own education. The first class comes after I've already had to hit the ground running by collecting and checking in books from nine classes and helping herd 600 students through breakfast in half an hour. It's morning and I am already tired. I'm drained. I'm spent. I'm exhausted. I feel like I have little left to give.
The class enters in jumbled, tumbling wave of preteen vexation. I hear a torrent of profanity. Oh no you didn't! I stop them all. I'm damming the damner. Everyone is silent. Who was spewing that filth in my library? Denials swirl. Fingers point. One confesses. The teacher enters at the end of the line. She asks what was going on. I inform her. She begins to remind the class of expectations as I walk to the reference wall.
I return with a thesaurus and dictionary plopping them on the table in front of the offending student*. Do you want books today? Yes. Good. Start with these. When you can give me a list of ten appropriate words you could have used in this situation you may go find books to check out. He is stunned, amazed, incredulous. He is confused by the results of his confession. The teacher says, "You heard her. Go sit over there and get to work if you want books."
The other students come and go checking books out. He sits against the wall paging through the books. It was a gamble in this building full of defiant tweens who know the administration doesn't back up the teachers. He is not displaying stubbornness, passive aggression, obstinacy. I ask if he's ready. He says he is still looking. Okay, keep at it. He looks chagrined, humbled, small, unsure.
When everyone is gone I walk over seeing he has his fingers saving pages. I ask him to show me what he has found. He points in the thesaurus to the word "calm." I ask if that is how he felt when he said the foul words. He shakes his head. Ok, it's a good word but it's not how you felt at the time. What are appropriate words to describe how you felt? I was angry. Good. We all get angry. Now find ten words that mean the same as angry. Do you know how to use this book? He admits he doesn't. He is embarrassed, fearful, disturbed....yet receptive, open, willing.
I show him the guide words, tell him to find the word "mad." He pages uncertainly until he finds it. Now read what it says. Mad, angry... Is that how you felt when you were cursing at the other boy? Yes. Okay, what other words mean the same? Annoyed, upset, furious, incensed. Were you annoyed? Yes. Were you upset? Yes. Were you furious and incensed? What's incensed? What do all these other words mean? Mad. They are all the same. So it means mad? Yep, that all mean mad. Yeah, I was incensed. Good. Pick one of those words and look it up, find some more. Angry. Look it up. Read it to me. Angry, mad, irritated, bothered, upset, irate. What's irate? Think about it. What do all the other words mean? Angry and mad. What do you think irate means? The same thing. Yep. So you know a lot of those words, right? Yes. And some of them are new to you, right? Uh-huh. Which ones of the words you know do you like best for describing how you felt? Upset and furious. Ok, which of the words new to you do you like best for describing how you felt? Irate and incensed. Those are good words.
Guess what? What? You're allowed to be upset, furious, incensed, and irate. You're not allowed to be nasty because of it. You talk about what made you feel that way. "Ricardo, it makes me furious when you push me away from the chair I want." You don't say, "Get outta my way you blankety-blank blank!" That just makes more people angry and starts more fighting. Now tell me how you can say things better next time with some of these words. I'm irate because you took my chair. Good, that's a start. Am I going to hear that other filth from you again? No. Good. Go find some more books to improve your mind and your mouth.
*God knows my internal kneejerk response was to want to unleash a flood of invective on the offending party but that's probably all he hears at home hence his own colorful repertoire.