Possible Sha-sha Solution!
Now, I’ve been asking nearly everyone I came across what to do in the situation. Was it really a race related controversy? Could it be about attention, or even territory? And the advice I got back spanned the spectrum:
“You should come into the class and sit on the desk yourself so she can’t sit there.”
“She obviously wants attention, so ignore her.”
“Send her out of the room. It’s inappropriate behavior.”
“When you teach special ed kids you have to pick your battles. As long as the student isn't killing anyone, let her sit on your desk.”
“If she sits on your desk, stand and go to another desk.”
I appreciated the advice, both the interesting bits and the helpful parts; but nothing seemed right for the situation. I felt that yelling at the student was counterproductive, but if I just ignored the situation it could be construed as weakness on my part. All I knew is that I don’t know this girl’s motivation, but I eventually wanted to break her desk-sitting habit.
And in order to do so I broke a cardinal teaching rule: I touched the student. That’s right, I laid hands on Sha-sha…because desperate times call for desperate measures.
I used the Mr. Miyagi method of wax on, wax off hand motions, lightly rubbing Sha-sha’s back.
“What the fuck ya think ya doin’, bitch?” She looked down, and over her shoulder at me.
At first I didn’t respond, not deeming to acknowledge the language. I counted to three very slowly in my head, but did not stop the circular rubbing.
“Yo, stop touchin’ me!”
“You’re sitting on my desk, obviously you wanted me to give you a massage. It’s ok, really, I can understand if your back is sore. I do give great back rubs.” Sha-sha sucked her teeth. Perhaps in agitation? I kept rubbing, lightly. The truth is I was scared to stop, to give up. But I felt pretty uncomfortable touching someone I didn’t know that well, and was threatening my life a week prior. Talk about rubbing the student the wrong way! (Har, har!)
I could sense it working. My tone was nonchalant and wry enough that I think Sha-sha took the situation in the right way. So either she’d move from my desk because I was invading her personal space, or she’d stay because she enjoyed the rub and I could use that as a reinforcement or calming motion later in the game. I felt confident in the plan, even if I wasn’t completely at ease with the touching itself.
SMASH! The cooperating teacher sitting next to me attempted to tip the desk so Sha-sha would have to slide off or choose to fall. Except the desk tipped over spilling Sha-sha butt first to the floor and the desk crashing over onto its side. Inwardly, I sighed. The fall did work to quell the student, however I felt it was in a negative manner. I know that the fall was a mistake of physics and gravity, but mistakes like that can make a teacher look bad or even violent. If Sha-sha had broken her tailbone or cracked her head I could see a very strong case for a lawsuit. And on top of that I really want to figure this situation on my own, because a month from now I won’t have someone in my class to fish me out of deep water.
I’ll try to rubbing technique again next time the situation calls for it. I think if I’ve learned anything, it’s to not be squeamish about creative behavior management plans…and that advice is great, but it’s not one size fits all.