Today I was sitting with a student who had a rough start to the day. He had gotten himself into some trouble because of a poor choice he made in class. We were talking about what happened, and instead of talking about the incident today, the student started sharing with me about an argument he had with his dad yesterday. It was almost lunch time and this student’s frustration was not with anything that happened today. It was an eye opener to me – here’s a kid who had been in our building for almost 3 hours. He was angry about something that happened yesterday, but he hadn’t had a chance to process those feelings with anyone.
As we started talking about what happened over the weekend and how it related to his incident in class, this student came up with a brilliant analogy. He shared a story about a picnic, and I’m going to try to recreate it here:
Imagine going on a picnic, you have your lunch set up, and then you realize that you left something you needed in the car. You walk back to the car to get what you need, and when you return there’s a bear eating your picnic lunch.
So maybe the next time you go on a picnic, you set a bear trap to keep the bear away, but while you’re busy watching for the bear, a bird sneaks up, and tries to takes some of the food, but the bear trap chomps down on the bird.
The student shared with me that in this analogy, the picnic lunch represents the student’s peace of mind. The bear represents the true thing that the student was truly upset about, for this student it was the anger about yesterday’s argument. The bear trap represents the student’s anger – for this kiddo it’s set and ready to go off at any time. The bird can represent that thing that happens here at school that sets off an angry student – it could be another student, it could be something a teacher says, it could be the bus driver, etc.
More often than not, the students who walk in with their bear trap set are not actually on edge because of things that are going on here at school. Even though this student “went off” here at school, his bear wasn’t in this building. Instead a bird managed to set him off.
None of us are able to read our students minds, so we can’t always know who it is that is walking around with anger bottled up inside, however we all know who it is in our class that often seems to be the one who does lose their temper. These are the students that we need to be aware of at all times. Make it a point to check in with your students who might be that bear trap just waiting to go off. It seems like more often than not, these students who reach their breaking point do so right before or after a break – sometimes even just the break of a weekend. It also seems that for most of these students, once they have a chance to talk, a chance to process, they are much more likely to hold it together for the rest of the day (or sometimes even longer).
If you have a student like this in your homeroom, seek them out, check in, build relationships, let them know that you care, and make sure that they know you are there for them. If you aren’t able to connect with that kiddo, maybe there’s someone else who can – a teammate, another teacher, a counselor, or someone in the office. We want these kiddos to feel like they have a trusted adult and a connection here at school. If you find a student who seems to be ready to lose it, talk with them. See if you can figure out what’s wrong, if they don’t want to talk to you, see if they would like to talk with that other trusted adult. Keep looking for ways to support the struggling student. Through these steps, you might be able to help protect the birds who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Have you ever had one of those moments with a student? They are really upset about something beyond our control, but they reach their breaking point in your room. What has worked well? What hasn’t worked so well? Share your experiences in the comments below.