When Fights Break Out in Math Class

After 6 months of not being in a classroom full of pre-teens, the Lord planned for me to make my debut at my old workplace…again. A few weeks ago I received a few texts from my coworkers. They needed help. And according to His plan, I was just the person to answer their call. My position now is a long-term substitute teaching 7th grade Math until the end of the semester. Before my early retirement from teaching last May, I taught 6th grade Math for two years. Yes, it was quite a long career, I know. If you do the math, you’ll realize that the 7th graders I’m teaching now, as they look for someone to take over full-time, are the 6th graders I taught last year. Sure, they were all thrilled to see me and to have me back for a little while, but things don’t always stay pretty, especially when teenagers and confined classrooms are involved.

5 years of training, 2 degrees earned (or given by God’s grace alone) and 2 years of teaching later, it finally happened. A fight broke out in my classroom. After all of the papers I’ve written on how to keep students engaged in the classroom and learning theories about classroom management being just about setting up routines and expectations, there’s still no equation to the perfect classroom. Well, at least not for me. I’m too much of a child myself. And my kids seem to love that about me. But their love is shown in a very interesting way. Most of them don’t actually care about what I’m saying unless it has something to do with the latest dance craze, Drake or hot Cheetos. They all think I’m the lamest 24 year old on this planet (I don’t disagree) because I keep telling them that they need to have self-control and that what they keep putting into their hearts and minds is what’s going to come out. No matter how many life (Bible) lessons I try to teach, some of my kids remain, let’s just say, a little rowdy. And of course I have the biggest soft spots in my heart for the worst behaved ones. I call it compassion. They’re just so cute. I can’t help but love them. And they need my Jesus. So love them, I will.

Back to the real story. I’m sitting at my desk working problems out under the document camera. It’s my elective period, so it’s a little more laid back. The kids in this class need lots and lots of help in math. They’re struggling. Big time. The problems are being projected on the SmartBoard and probably 1/3 of the class is actually paying attention and on task. I have 4 or 5 students around me at my desk working along, or at least trying their best. Meanwhile, Ryan returns from the bathroom, then Jack (these aren’t their real names) approaches him. Ryan pushes Jack. Jack pushes back. Ryan punches Jack in the face. And my heart starts racing 700 miles a second. And somehow I’m trying to jump over the 5 kids surrounding me, while in my heels, to stop Ryan and Jack from killing each other. One rule we all learn in the countless trainings we attend as teachers is this: never get involved in a fight. Uhhhh, how is that even possible?! I finally make it over to them, but another student is holding me back, yelling, “No, Ms. Mathews you can’t!” In the span of 10 seconds I’m losing it internally, but keeping my cool externally. At this point Ryan has Jack in a chokehold, and neither of them are letting each other go. I run to the door and of course no ones in the hallway to help. I run to the other end of the classroom and press the emergency call button and of course no one answers until it’s all over. Finally help arrives. Things calm down. But not my heart. It’s still racing.

All I remember is what I felt deep inside. My babies are hurting each other for no reason, and they have no clue how much they are hurting themselves by acting out in this way. My babies think they’re adults. They think they know best. And I’m helpless. Why won’t they just listen to me? I know what’s best for them. 

Then the lessons from Him rushed in. All of this for God to give me another, tiny glimpse into what He must feel when I act outside of His will for me. How many times do I not listen? How many times do I get myself mixed up with the worst things for me? How many times do I choose to fight instead of trust? All while He so lovingly calls out to me, “My daughter…” I keep fighting, but He keeps calling out to me. I ignore Him, but He’s still there. His patience is incredible. I finally give up and look up. He still delights in me. He is for me. And it seems like He always will be. Oh I pray that I would stop choosing to fight against Him and just rest knowing I’m right where I need to be. The only battle I should be fighting is for precious souls like Ryan and Jack to know Him.

After they give up, my sweet Jack comes to me; I put my arm around his shoulders as he looks into my eyes, and I gently say, “You can’t keep doing this…” He responds, “I know, Ms. Mathews, I know.”

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