I am the teacher designated by my principal if he is off campus for the day. I have a good track record of peaceful days without incident. Minor playground skirmishes, tiny teacher issues, and I only miss one reading group or two. But I have feared being called to a special day class for violence.
The other day both principal and secretary were out when the health clerk called me to go see a student who had pushed an aide against a wall and punched her repeatedly. Ugh.
I made my way over to the building, working on calm and breathing, assisted by a big dose of cough medicine and a bad cold. I felt weak and small and should have been home, except for that 2 a.m. text from the principal.
In the classroom, another aid was kneeling by the kindergartner assailant and she seemed to have established contact. I motioned for her to lead the big eyed little boy outside where I invited him to follow me up the stepping stones into the sun. One step, breathe, another step. It was a nice calming ritual for both of us.
I remembered his name. “Solomon, we’re going to have a meeting,” I said pleasantly, sitting down on the sidewalk.
“What’s a meeting?” he asked curiously. The aide left us alone.
“A meeting is when you talk about things. Important things.” And I invited him to tell me what was going on. He reported that it had been a bad day.
“Tell me what made it bad.” No reply.
“What’s the story of your bad day?” He looked down at his lap and fingered a pebble on the sidewalk. The entire morning seemed to be replaying in his head.
“Your name is Solomon,” I said. “Have you heard of a very wise king named Solomon? He told people how to solve problems.”
His eyes eagerly met mine and he shook his head yes.
“Well, I am wondering what you think King Solomon would say. What advice would he give you?” Solomon only thought a moment.
“He would say you should notice when you get angry.” I truly was impressed.
“That’s very good advice, isn’t it?” I agreed as Solomon shook his head and breathed. “Wow, I could do that, too. I could notice when I am angry and then maybe choose to calm down. So, what could you do?”
“Notice when I get angry.”
“And then you could have a good day!” I offered. He squirmed and countered that it was already a bad day. “Really bad,” he explained.
“What do you do in the classroom when you need to calm down?” I stood up. “Let’s find out how we can make this a good day.”
Solomon led me back into the room to the back where he belly-flopped on a carpet. I got on the floor next to him and said, “Hey, let me show you how you do it. Here’s how you really relax!” I rolled on my back with arms outspread and took a big breath. “Ahhh! So relaxing! I am so peaceful…” He turned over and imitated me and we both laughed. This was a rotation classroom, so I invited Solomon to show me his calm down spot in the regular classroom. He looked disconcerted, so I said, “Let’s find one.”
The class was gathered up front on the rug with the teacher so we found a spot at the back of the room. I invited him to try it out. He said it worked.
We walked back into the adjoining room, the scene of the incident, and I said we were going to make a cool down kit that he could use anywhere. I grabbed a skein of red yarn on a desk and borrowed scissors. Cutting a length, I wound it around several of Solomon’s fingers and then took it off to knot it in a mini pom pom.
Solomon was ready to put the bit of fluff into his pocket when I said, “I need to show you how this works.” I modeled getting annoyed and then rolled the bit of string back and forth in between my palms. I watched it and started to smile. “Try it and see if it works for you.” He rolled it in his palms and smiled.
“Okay, so are you ready to have a good day now?” I looked into his eyes. He was certain. “I’m going now,” I explained kneeling down. “If your teacher has to call the office again, I will have to call your mother. I think it will be better to have a good day, don’t you?”
His nod of agreement gave me leave. I walked to my classroom, relieved and a little bit happy. It was so easy to be with him. Solomon, so bright and wise.
The next time I saw him, after my three sick days, Solomon was in the office reporting on good behavior. He had a sticker on his polo shirt. I came up to him to say hi and read it aloud, “I was a good friend today.” I congratulated him.