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Perspectives: How This Teacher Is Learning to Handle Recess Meltdowns

06/08/2013 08:38 EDT | Updated 08/08/2013 05:12 EDT

I can feel the stress creeping up my back, into my shoulders, and down my spine.

Everywhere I turn, I hear what seem to be hundreds of little voices calling me. Calling me to "come" and "look!," to intervene and facilitate, to watch and guide. Happy voices. Tattling voices. Whining voices. Crying voices. Pleading voices. Voices. Calling me in various cadences of sound. Until all the voices fade into one and I hear instead a distinct ringing in my ears.

"Mrs. Gaaaarrrrrrddddd!"

I feel that taut muscle system pulling in the back of my neck and shoulder. And I rotate my neck, hoping to alleviate the strain. I am probably doing damage there in ways that would make a chiropractor cringe.

Nonetheless, there is muscle relaxation, cartwheels and games of tag. It is what we teachers do. To survive and enjoy that sweet half-an-hour stretch known to children as "Big Recess," and known to teachers as, "the slowest half hour of the day which has been designated specifically for outdoor bedlam."

Or, in the handbook, it's also known as "lunch duty," and it can go one of two ways: smooth or utter chaos.

I start walking over to the new tether-ball set-up, as there is a crowd of students gathered around tether-ball stations for a K-2 playground. "What a super-good idea," said no recess duty teacher ever. And it has already proved to be that expected source of contention that was anticipated, that is, contention over whose turn will be next and whether or not everyone is getting a fair shot. And the very real dilemma that one kid has already received two bonks in the head worthy of a pretty good concussion. It is a hot spot of entertainment for one and all.

I love that I am the guinea pig teacher who gets to try it all out first. As I left this huddle of fun only five minutes prior (to investigate such worthy matters as bodies in backpacks and who wasn't playing with whom), I know that it is time to make my dreaded return, to the tether-ball game and the 20 or so children lined up waiting for a turn.

Time is up just now for the two whacking the ball into oblivion. Thankfully, it's tethered.

I trundle over.

"Time to shift," I holler. "Who's up next?" The two already in play start to contend. One yells at me, "But we haven't won yet!!"

"Sorry guys, there are a lot of kids waiting for a turn. So, you'll have to end your game and move to the back of the line."

"What.the.FRIG," comes the angry retort. Then, the stomping begins, and the little tether-ball player starts to storm off.

What the FRIG sounds to me at this moment like a string of swear words, seeing as I am dealing with an aching neck and high blood pressure. Indeed, I can feel blood boiling, along with that tight shoulder spasm.

And I can almost sense a blood vessel about to burst. You could pump a bike tire with this pressure.

"So-and-so, you follow me please. Over to the wall."

So-and-so marches off in the other direction.

"So-and-so," I repeat again, in as calm but insistent a voice as I can muster, "Follow me over to the wall."

So-and-so follows. But reluctantly.

I have exactly 10 seconds to talk myself down from this potential heart attack I can feel coming on. I am ready to explode or spontaneously combust.

I arrive at the wall and I realize I have a choice to make. I can issue stern reprimands for disrespect to a teacher, which will be followed up on once said child arrives inside. Or I can choose another route, another way.

This is when we must see children as precious souls, as little people with big stories. We can then make a choice to understand the "why's" of their behaviors, thus allowing us to get below the surface of the "what's" of the circumstances in their lives, so as to uncover the truth -- their truth.

For every child has a truth that is their very own. And we do a disservice to them as human beings when we don't listen closely enough, for the rest of the story -- for the truth.

I crouch down to eye level and draw upon what I know to be true.

Big breath.

Calm voice.

Heart connection.

Empathy.

And I make that rewarding choice of compassion and understanding over frustration and anger.

We both win, that tether-ball champ and I. And know it as true as the sky is blue. As true as there are not enough words to do justice to a complicated story, to do justice to the authentic truth of a child. And I know this is so. For I can see that truth shining in his eyes.

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