Tears In The Classroom


I am sure there were multiple days during the 2018-2019 school year, when elementary school teacher, Mrs. Bridgeman, did not want to go to work. As a retired educator, there were many days in my career when I did not want to go to work too.

But for Mrs. Bridgeman, the challenge was one student. A student whose reputation preceded him. His track record as a disruptor was well known. No one was immune from the student’s ability to wreak havoc. 

His classmates, bus drivers, cafeteria personnel, librarian, art, music, physical education teachers, substitute teachers, school counselor, and principal were impacted. As a young veteran teacher, nothing in Mrs. Bridgeman’s student teaching experience prepared her for this student.

In a struggle like this, the right to learn for the student and his classmates is disrupted. Very little learning is taking place. Eventually, the parent’s life is  disrupted too. 

Mrs. Bridgeman’s repertoire of classroom management techniques was quickly emptied. She sought assistance through assorted school system supports. Again, suggestions attempted were short lived or had no influence.

There were plenty of days, when Mrs. Bridgeman went home defeated, disheartened, miserable, mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. On many occasions, in her mind, she wrote a carefully constructed resignation letter. Sleep was restless—like trying to nap on an airline flight tossed with turbulence.

Yet, somehow each day Mrs. Bridgeman returned to her classroom. Battle weary, she battled another day. 

Mrs. Bridgeman knew this student needed help beyond her interventions and beyond any suggestions that had been offered so far. She dug deep into her fortitude. She was not going to let this student continue to impale himself, his peers, his school, and his family.

Mrs. Bridgeman shifted tactics. Her focus became the student’s parent. In meetings, phone calls, e-mails, Mrs. Bridgeman began to build a relationship with the parent. 

As his teacher, she painted a portrait for the student’s parent. She was honest and realistic. Somehow, Mrs. Bridgeman conveyed—the potential in your son will never be uncovered unless we unravel his need to be a disruptor. 

It took time, but Mrs. Bridgeman built a trust with the parent. A relationship was being constructed. That trust evolved into the parent consenting for additional potential supports from the school system to be explored.

As these protocols were being examined, Mrs. Bridgeman continued to work with the student. Steps forward often were countered with multiple backward steps. Quite often, she was infuriated with herself—“Why do I keep trying? Why am I putting myself through this? Why do I care what happens to this student?”

Deep into the second semester of the school year, the team of professionals who had worked to assess the student was ready to report their findings. Those meetings when findings and recommendations are reported to a parent are often conducted in fragile environments.

Mrs. Bridgeman knew there were no guarantees that the parent would agree to the recommendations. But, Mrs. Bridgeman was hoping the trust she had established might be the pivot point.

Turns out that trust meant something to the parent. Loaded with lots of questions for the team that were answered, the parent agreed with the findings. 

This endorsement allowed for some critical implementations to be put in place before the end of the school year for the student.

While it took some more time for these supports to come together, they did. Though not perfect, the adjustments made on behalf of the student started to have an impact.  

In May, students across the Commonwealth of Virginia take the annual Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. These state implemented test have become an integral part of assessing student academic growth. 

Additionally, the tests are an added level of stress and pressure for principals and their faculties.  A school’s accreditation is tied to the performance of students on these tests.

On a Friday afternoon with a week of testing completed, Mrs. Bridgeman received some news. Her disruptive student who on countless occasions had put her on the brink of resigning had passed his math SOL test.

Immediately, Mrs. Bridgeman burst into tears.

As May was coming to an end and testing completed for another year, Mrs. Bridgeman was interacting with her students one afternoon. She explained to her class that she would not be returning next year. Her husband was going to pursue job opportunities in California.

Immediately, the student who had plucked every nerve in Mrs. Bridgeman’s body for an entire school year burst into tears. 

He cried the rest of the afternoon. He was like putty. He could not be consoled.

Now, here is the scary part. I have no data. But, I would wager every elementary school in America has a disruptor. Some probably have more than one.

But the real question to be asked is how are we going to respond?

And let me assure you, we can’t afford not to respond.

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