It isn’t often that my students surprise me, 8th graders being predictable: selfish, oozing with drama and full of themselves. But occasionally they do surprise me with their actions or thoughts. Today was one of those days.
It was an ordinary enough day. A “b-week” which for some reason always seems to speed by like a runaway train. Busy, hectic and chaotic, but that describes just about everyday at a middle school. During the class change between 4th and 3rd periods two of my students, M and J decided that smack talk wasn’t enough to prove their manly “maness” (keep in mind of course that these students are 14 and a far cry away from “man”) so words became challenges and a gauntlet was throw, picked up and accepted. Imagine the very romantic image of knights in shining armor and then go to the complete opposite. Now, we had just come back from lunch and they were hyped up on chocolate milk and cold hamburgers, so the full stomachs and sensitive hormones gave way to an all out brawl. A brawl that I was unfortunate enough to get stuck in the middle of.
Normally during fights, I am crowd control. I push kids into the nearest classroom and kick the mob back so nobody gets hurt, as is required. I am not overly strong, so me trying to break up a fight is laughable. And with my medical issue, bruising is a concern for me, so I try to stay out of the way of flying fists. Besides, I really, really, really, don’t like pain.
So there I am, stuck in the middle of the hall surrounded by a mob of students that I am trying to keep back. The mob decided that it was far more fun to get as close to the fight as they could, which resulted in the unfortunate side effect of me being closer to the fight. At that point, two male teachers at the top of the hall are trying to push their way towards the fight. Two other students D and T are trying, unsuccessfully, to help break up the fight. Good rule of thumb, if people are intent on injuring each other, it is kind of pointless to try to stop them. In any case, I am still far too close to this fight but it seemed to be winding down in that J was on the floor and M was pummeling him about the head. At that point it is a simple matter of pulling M off J and M would be considered the “winner” (at least this is easy in boy fights, girl fights? I don’t even want to think about it!).
So I figure in order to end the fight and get the kids out of the hall, I’ll pull M off J and that will be that! And amazingly, it worked. I grabbed M with my left hand and pulled him up and back. As soon as I put my hand on him, he stopped punching. Whether he let me pull him back or in the moment I became grinch-like strong, I don’t know. But I pulled him back and swiveled to my left and pushed M away from J. Now, keep in mind, we are in a hallway, I can’t get to my classroom because a mob is standing in front of it. I am pushed up against the lockers because a mob is behind me. So in essence I am stuck in one spot in the hall. But I figure I’ll be ok, because I know that the two other teachers are making their way towards me. (remember the mob?)
M immediately “calms” down when he sees me. Now he was still yelling but he wasn’t swinging and he certainly didn’t have anymore to prove by that point. My right arm is braced against the lockers and I keep trying to push M farther back away, but mob! So I am holding him in place. I look at him and in a split second, just as I feel a presence behind me, M’s face goes from calming down to boiled up. J came up behind me and started swinging at M over my right shoulder.
Now, let me remind you: MOB!!! I had no where I could move to. As J started swinging inches from my head I twisted away so that instead of fighting over my shoulder, the boys were now fighting two inches from my face. And really, I never knew punches really did sound like a sickening thud. Now, at this point, I am more than a bit nervous…I am bordering on fright. Both of these boys were bigger than me, both were athletes and took great pride in working out. With the mob pushing in to see the fight I could not move in any direction. The two teachers were still trying to get to M and J and all I could do was lean my head back.
I started off this post saying that a student surprised me, and here is where the surprise comes in: As I am trying to avoid being hit (although I do have to say, M and J were very accurate with their punches) my other student, D, who had been trying to help break up the fight to begin with, saw that I was stuck, pushed his way up to me through the mad mob of 8th graders eager for some blood, grabbed my upper chest with his left arm, called a quick, “Watch it!“ and forcibly shoved me behind him, effectively shielding me from the fight. Now whether his “watch it” was directed at me, M and J or the other students I’m not sure. But by that point, the other two teachers were able to get in between M and J and pull them apart and down to separate ends of the hallway. And I resumed my crowd control job shoving kids into classrooms and clearing the hall.
Afterwards, during the class change at the end of the day, I called D over to my door and thanked him. I said, “You shoved my out of the way, thank you.” And, bless this boy, because he looked down at me in shock and said, “Ms. M, I’m so sorry I pushed you but you were gonna get hurt.” I almost cried. I said, “No, Darling, I was scared and didn’t have anywhere I could go, you got me out of the way. Thank you!” He just grinned a sheepish sort of embarrassed smile and went to class.
Not one to leave enough alone, I called D’s mom before I left for the day. At first she was afraid that I was calling with bad news, and I said “No, Ma’am,” and explained to her what happened, that her son, who apparently outside of class gets into a bit of trouble, was concerned for my welfare and helped me. I told her how proud I was and grateful to D that instead of looking to “get in” on the fight, he was doing the right thing. She started to cry and thanked me for letting her know about the “good stuff” that happens.
Now I can honestly say, that in my four years at my school, I have not been scared in the sense I was afraid something was going to happen to me. I had a student with a gun in my class. Didn’t phase me. I had a student who, in anger, threatened me. Not a problem.
Today…today, I was scared. And grateful. And proud. And really, when I think about it, when I think about the kind of kid D is, I’m really not all that surprised.