I'm a very non-confrontational person. I like to settle disputes and conflicts through conversations and giving people time and space to process things. I don't enjoy getting into arguments with friends or with co-workers about anything.
But no matter my own personal preferences in dealing with confrontations and conflicts, as a teacher, I have had numerous incidents where I have had to step outside my comfort zone and discipline students. I have written about some incidents where I had to give tough love where everything in my nature screams that it is the wrong thing to do.
As an authority figure dealing with kids with a high level of trauma, it feels like every day can be a warzone with my nonconfrontational personality. And I wish to my core that that wasn't the case, and that there would be another way for me to deal with the challenges I face instead of strict and firm discipline.
I reminisce on the days of my childhood, of my parents' screaming matches and how my current personality reflects my aversion to trouble and confrontation. For a long time, because of how uncomfortable I was with my parents' constantly fighting and yelling at each other, I thought I could go through life completely peaceful and pursuing a path of pacifism and reconciliation. I am a perpetual people-pleaser that seeks to validate every person's experiences and emotions, above all seeking to make them feel not alone in their pain and suffering.
My faith and Christian values have certainly undergirded the inclination towards peace. "Do not resist the one who is evil," Jesus says in Matthew 5:39. "But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Jesus preached against retaliation, to let people steal from you, to go two miles for everyone that forces us to go a mile. He told us that the mark of a good Christian and a good Christian's love is how much you love your enemies.
Outside my school building and outside the classroom, I follow these creeds because they're God's word and Gospel. However, all that I can say is that when you get in the classroom, especially in a rough, inner-city environment, acting like a Christian and pursuing a path of non-confrontation and peace becomes significantly more difficult. Maybe I'll get better at it much later in my career, and maybe I won't. But I have written about some of my experiences so far, such as when I had a door slammed on my hand, or when a kid put me in a headlock, or when my phone got stolen.
I wanted to give my kids forgiveness, grace, and mercy at the beginning of the school year. As such, I let them get away with way too many things they should not have gotten away with. I wasn't holding them accountable and responsible for their actions and misbehaviors.
Initially, I thought I was taking the higher road and being a Christian. But I quickly discovered that the right things to do as a teacher to highly troubled and traumatized kids are not to let them get away with things. It wasn't exactly the most Christan thing to do either.
It took a couple of rude awakenings of me being taken advantage of and some of my most misbehaving kids not respecting my kindness and patience to finally be firm and set clear boundaries. I don't let my kids sit on counters and radiators anymore, and I am much less willing to allow them to be on their phones. I step in for even the most minor altercation, and alert my administration for ways I have been disrespected or for a kid who couldn't keep his hands to himself. With the guidance, support, and advice of more veteran teachers and my administrators, I have stopped backing down. The moment a student curses me out or refuses to follow directions, I enact firm and unwavering consequences that I should have kept in place for day one.
I have made a lot more phone calls home, and I wish I could say that they're an equal amount of positive and negative phone calls, but that's not true. The students have told me that I'm becoming mean, and called me a bad teacher for not being consistent for the start of the school year. That latter part is true, that I should have learned that the goal wasn't to be non-confrontational and just let everyone do what they want. You might be able to do that with adults and friends and family, but you cannot just leave students alone in these situations.
Dealing with confrontation with a very non-confrontational personality has meant that I have had to step outside my comfort zone in almost every classroom or hallway situation. It has not been easy, and I don't necessarily like it.
I don't know if I'm doing the right thing, and I have sacrificed good relationships at the expense of discipline and raising my behavioral and academic expectations. But I do know that I am making progress. Sometimes, when boundaries and lines are crossed, you can't just react with peace and back down. I am not an old-school teacher or paraprofessional that thinks you should just hit a kid back if they hit you, but I know the road to becoming a good and lasting teacher is to set clear and firm boundaries and to provide structure for my kids.
Some of that progress is hard to see on a daily basis. A classroom is like a microcosm of society, that when more strict and firm rules are put in place, a lot of people will push back. I am not saying that prohibition was a good thing, but having less people on the road drinking and driving with strict penalties is.
The fact is that no one will respect a rule or law if firm consequences aren't there to begin with. That's something you would have rarely heard out of my mouth a long time ago, but abiding by the Spirit over the Law doesn't mean that there aren't consequences and doesn't mean that there isn't grace. It means that we do what we have to do to survive and promote a safe and harmonious society, nothing more and nothing less.
Teaching is, in a lot of ways, what I expected and what I didn't. I didn't expect to spend so much time addressing behavior instead of content. I took for granted the fact that a teacher expects you to not curse across the room or put your hands on someone, or that a teacher expected you to stay in the classroom.
Dealing with confrontation with a non-confrontational personality is absolutely necessary in my profession. I can choose how to handle my interpersonal relationships however I please. I don't need to be constantly confrontational with my parents, brother, girlfriend, or friends. In fact, I'm glad that I'm the opposite.
But when I am a teacher with the education and futures of my students in my hands, I don't have a choice. I have to address the gap between how I prefer to do things versus how I have to do things.
Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do.