It’s good to be back.
Yesterday a student tripped me, or almost tripped me, I should say. I was talking to a couple of my students in the hallway, and another student was behind me. When I turned around to walk away, there was her leg stuck out in front of me. I stumbled over it, but I caught myself. I turned back around, pissed. I glared at the student, who had moved back against the wall. I sharply spat out, “______. I don’t even know what to say.” [Dramatic pause] “Get out of here. Now.”
She bolted down the hallway as fast as she could, terrified.
Today, I pondered how I was going to handle the situation. This girl was becoming a pain the class anyway, so I was going to have to address it decisively. And I felt like giving her a good scare.
During class, I simply went over to her and said, “After school, you are going to come straight to my classroom. I need to decide your punishment.” This is the classic tension builder. She was going to have to spend the rest of the school day worrying about what punitive measures await.
The next step was to not be there immediately after school. I chatted with some teachers for about five minutes, and then swung back by the room where she was waiting outside my door. I ushered her into the classroom and told her to take a seat, and I sat at my desk in silence for a whole minute, looking deep in thought.
Then the finale: laying out the possible consequences in order from greatest to least.
“Your punishment,” I started, “is wholly dependent on how I perceive your intentions. If I believe you tripped me intentionally, that’s assault. I can press charges and you’ll never go to this school again. Or I can write up an office referral, and you’ll be suspended. If I believe you tripped my on accident or from a poor attempt at being funny, then the consequence may be less. So, what should I believe?”
“Well, sometimes when I stand, I stand like this,” she replied, standing up with one leg out.
Now, I can read a middle schooler’s face like a first grade book of sight words. She was obviously trying to cover. I looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“No, I’m not buying it. This is English class, so let’s revise that story.”
Her eyes welled up with tears. “I didn’t mean to. I was just trying to be funny. I was going to move my foot away before you turned around. I didn’t think you would trip.”
And that’s where I brought it back down to earth. I told her that her punishment was to write a page explaining why that was a terribly stupid decision, complete with an apology. I hope I wasn’t too much of a jerk, but that girl be trippin’.