"Oh, you must be very patient."
If I heard that once I've heard it a thousand times when asked, "What do you do for a living?" It seems to be inherently linked with special education teachers. Yet, I would never have described myself as a patient person. Inquisitive, determined, flexible, even funny, yes, but patient? No way.
Tony was born with Hydrocephalus and had an internal shunt system to keep fluid from collecting in his brain. It resulted in mild learning differences and behavioral outbursts when he was overloaded with cognitive and environmental stimulation. All of this was intensified if his shunt malfunctioned. One afternoon, I was called to the computer room ASAP. I could hear the wailing as I ran down the hall. The room was filled with wide-eyed students seated at their computers and a pacing teacher. One station next to the door was empty, but the space below the computer was filled with a screaming, ballistic Tony.
Not an optimal learning environment for anyone, and I knew from experience that Tony needed to be removed before he would be able to calm down. I knelt down and calmly asked if he needed help getting to the hallway. No verbal response, but the kicking and fist-pounding slowed. With Tony still screaming, his classmates staring and unable to work, and the teacher glaring, I had to react quickly. I bent down, grasped both feet, and gently pulled him across the carpet out the door and into the hallway. His wailing turned to gulp like sobs as I closed the classroom door and sat down on the floor next to him. (Before people start to get irate, understand that I had parent approval to remove him in this manner.)
Now as I look back at this incident, I realize to the naked eye that I looked extremely patient. I gave no outward sign that I was anxious and used a calm voice. I knew that Tony was always mortified about the way he looked to his classmates when he "lost it," and fast removal was the key to helping him keep his dignity. We sat in the hall for 20 minutes. The first half was spent in silence till he calmed down, and the second was spent problem-solving.
Early in my career, I realized negative behavior was a constant element of special education. There is nothing like a self-contained special education room to test a new teacher's endurance. I would start hyperventilating, talking fast, get an icky feeling in my stomach, and my already-loud voice would get louder. I was anxious, and the more anxious I got, the more the students would lose control.
So I learned to 'nip' those responses in the 'bud.' Stone face, low tone, and few (if any) words became my mantra. I had identified what my physical responses were to stress and planned how to respond. It worked. In truth, I had to tailor my reactions in order to make patience fit.
Was It Easy?
I'm a caregiver and standing back watching a child misbehave was torture. Your first response is to try to talk to them about it. At first, I cognitively reacted to my triggers. I would self-talk my way through stopping a physical or verbal reaction. "I'm babbling, my heart is racing, I'm shouting. Breathe slowly, stop talking, relax your face." Then, through repetition, I learned to almost instinctively respond with a "no talking, no emotion" demeanor to behavior before I even became stressed.
Love the Child...Hate the Behavior!
Successful special education teachers are masters at controlling behavior. They learn early on to hate the behavior, but love the child. By refusing to react to Tony's misbehavior, I was actually denying reinforcement. All too often I have seen adults trying to rationalize with children and end up in a viscous debate. There is no winner in those scenarios.
Initially patience was not part of my wardrobe. In truth, I had to tailor my reactions to behaviors in order to make patience fit. I can now proudly say that I wear it well!