Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You Started It!

If there’s one word a teacher hates to hear from a student it’s - FIGHT! 

The word, FIGHT, is always accompanied by a sudden rush of students in the direction of the event, making it difficult for the peacemaking teachers to get to the action, so to speak. In my thirty-four years of teaching, I have seen my fair share of fights, heard about many more, and even gotten in the middle of a few (to put a stop to it). Most of the fights I’ve experienced were half-hearted attempts at violence, with excessive pushing (and cursing) or arms locked around each other in an awkward embrace (and cursing). Occasionally, there's a bloody nose, or the next day a black eye, but that's usually the extent of the damage. There have been a few exceptions.

The worst fights I have ever encountered were not big, hulking, teenage boys, bursting with hormones and full of piss and vinegar. The worst fights I have ever had to contend with were between girls, yes, I said girls. Girls hold nothing back – nothing. They fight to the death, and woe unto the girl who has long hair. Boys generally fight with their fists or the headlock grab. Girls go for the hair – every time. They twine the hair around and around their fingers and PULL with the strength that only righteous indignation can ignite. And girls scratch! They will sink their fingernails in any exposed flesh and rake and scrape. They also bite, spit, and kick.

What causes teens to resort to physical violence? Is it mere teenage angst? I think not. Ninety-nine percent of the time it's over the opposite sex. Ah, love! Shakespeare said it best, "O never say that I was false of heart." Real or imagined, most of the fights among teenagers are because "he said - she said, or she said - he said," and occasionally, it's "they said." These fights are the stuff songs are made of. Every time I hear of girls fighting over a boy I think of Loretta Lynn's song, "You Ain't Woman Enough," but those girls should be singing, "Before he Cheats" by Carrie Underwood. But I digress.

When I was a teenager, I would have never dared to get into a fight at school. I grew up with a brother two years my junior and believe me, we got into lots of arguments, but my mother had a way of nipping our fights in the bud. She hated to hear me say those three words: "He started it!" As much as she hated to hear my brother say, "She started it!" My mother knew just what to do to "finish it." She made us apologize and hug each other, and we had to "mean it" or we hugged until we did! If I had gotten into a fight at school, I have no doubt my mother would have marched into the principal's office and made me hug my opponent.

My goal is to teach my students that their real weapons are not their fists, but their words. Communication - the ability to express yourself with words - written or spoken, will accomplish more than your fists, and it's undeniably less painful. I tell my students that if you  learn how to express yourself, people will listen. In the words of President John Adams, "Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." I like to think he wouldn't mind if I added ...and don't fight.

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