Friday, September 12, 2008

Bad Behavior

The red truck suddenly swerved into my lane, as I sat patiently waiting for the line of oncoming traffic to pass so I could make my left hand turn.
My eyes opened wide at the imminent impact. But before I gasped, I could see the driver laughing at my startled expression and he quickly returned to his side of the street.
I looked in my rear-view mirror, and saw the man craning his neck to look back at me, alone in the cab, shoulders shaking with laughter and a sadistic grin stretched across his face.
"That is one sick human being." I thought as I made my turn and continued toward home
Over the course of my career, I've worked with many young people who suffered with emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as severe mental illnesses. These kids struggle daily with the chemical imbalances that play havoc on their brains. Fortunately, we live in a day and age of medical miracles, and many of these students find balance with the proper medication.
Teachers who work in schools having significant populations of children who are diagnosed with these types of disorders, become quite adept at determining which behaviors are merely symptoms of their condition and, while disruptive, can be tolerated with sympathy, and which manifestations call for removal of the student. Wisdom as well as discernment come with experience. Over the years, I notice I've become a far more patient teacher than I was as a rookie, especially when it comes to kids who can't focus, or have energy levels that range from extremely low, to obnoxiously high. I've learned to roll, in a manner of speaking. When I make a conscious effort not to get upset, I find I am a much happier person.
Last week a colleague shared an experience he had that morning as he walked into the school office, and a student deliberately stuck out his foot in an attempt to make the teacher trip.
"My immediate reaction was anger," he confided, " but when I looked at the boys face, I could tell there was something wrong with the young man mentally, and suddenly my anger became compassion. I could only feel sorry for him, because at some point, he must have seen a comedy where a person was tripped, and all he could think of was that tripping somebody is funny. "
This man is a new, second career teacher, and I smiled, thinking how lucky we are to have added such a talented, thoughtful, and kind member to our faculty.
Tolerance should have it's limits though. Where I personally draw the line is with the true sociopaths. These are people who have absolutely no regard for the feelings of others - the bullies. I meet a few of them every year in my classroom; just plain mean kids who find entertainment in the misery and humiliation of their chosen victims. They are usually not students who have been diagnosed with special needs. In fact, most of these kids (girls as well as boys) are normal, even bright. The seemingly innate cruelty baffles me. I often find myself wondering how these personalities develop. Do they also suffer from some chemical quirkiness, or are their attitudes a reflection of their home lives?
Unfortunately, school house bullies grow up to become adult sociopaths. Sometimes, a few years down the road I will read their names in the crime section of the metro pages. However, most of the time they refine their bullying and quietly become our neighbors, have families, and get jobs.
And sometimes they buy red trucks and terrorize women stopped at traffic lights.
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Kathy G said...

All of the students who come to my tutoring center have been through rehab for drug and/or alcohol problems. They have made the decision to use NO mind-altering substances...even though many of them have some type of attention problems and were prescribed prescription drugs for them in the past.

Some days it's like herding cats trying to get a half-dozen ADHD adolescents to focus!

thatgirl said...

I had a friend in high school who used to do that, and he had nothing wrong with him except a sick sense of humor. We're not friends anymore for that reason.

Sammy said...

I've met many of these kids - too often they are bright and intelligent, but their behaviors are the result of deep seated fear. This fear causes them to be unable to express themselves directly, and many times even the dark emotion itself will be sublimated for a less internally threatening emotion. Unresolved fear can be subjectively experienced as boredom, and these acting out behaviors are meant to "soothe the squalling baby" that they really are. They may even behave this way with the intention of pushing others away, because to live life on life's terms is too terrifying for them. They can't control themselves, so they try to control others via bullying, withdrawal, or passive-aggressive behaviors. The emotional risks associated with actually connecting with another human being are more than their maturity level can handle. On the other end of the same spectrum are the less noticeable isolationists. They are the ones that camouflage themselves in non-entity; and then we are surprised when we discover that they have overdosed, or engaged in some form of violent behavior. All this chaos because they harbor some deep-seated insecurity based in their own fear-centered concept of the world. As teachers and therapists, we come into these associations dragging our own baggage, and we try to change their behavior without regard for their motivations.