“The F**k Off”
Some may never have this happen to them in their entire careers. Others may experience this many times through the course of dealing with particular students. There may be some protocol one ought to follow in a situation like this, but in the heat of this moment – no protocol can override the swell of emotions and instant reflex that you feel if it happens to you. What I am referring to are disrespectful students, like the ones that tell you to “f*** off.” I am writing about it because fortunately it happened to me in my very first year of teaching.
It was not an authority defying, “Yeah I’m looking straight at you and I just said ‘f off’ so why don’t you go f- off?” type of verbal assault. It was more of an almost under the breath, reflexive “f- off.” Either way, it was two words that a teacher never wants to hear uttered in their direction from one of their students.The “f- off” hit me immediately and with enormous impact. I was shocked and at a loss for words. It came to me as sharp and lethal as a hollow point bullet. First, nothingness occupied my mind and then a million thoughts came swirling in. There was the way that the ideal “Mr. Morris” should have handled it. There was the way that the real “Matthew Morris” wanted to retort. And then, when reality took its stand, there was the somewhere-in-between way that “Mr. Matthew Morris” did manage it.
This type of situation is hard to provide advice for. There are so many different contextual lines to unravel to understand how to, in a flash of a second, deal with such a volatile interaction. The “f**k off” is a situation involving the dynamics of power, contestation, and emotions among many other underlying contextual circumstances. Handling the situation also depends on your relationship with the student. Is it a troubled student? Someone who has a tendency to be off the cuff and show erratic and disrespectful behavior? Is it a student who has had a difficult day and simply reached a boiling point? Have you stepped into a situation that was already melting over and you are trying to serve some sort of damage control? All these contexts and many more come into play. These questions will affect how you will respond and follow up (with discipline).
In a supremely condensed version of the story, I requested her to do something and accompanied my comment with a remark that touched on the fact that other students had complained about the exact behavior she was currently performing. In retrospect, my accompanying remark may have been slightly hyperbolic and insulting to her. Perhaps feeling embarrassed and disrespected, she quickly retorted, “f**k off,” under her breath. And then the world stopped for a second. Did I really just hear that from a student directed at me? Woah.
I was stunned and felt like I had just been sucker punched. After a few seconds (but what seemed like minutes to me), I answered, “Excuse me?!… Are you kidding me?!” Followed promptly by, “You are going straight to the Principal; you can tell him exactly what you just said to me!!” I walked back into my room and buzzed the office. At this point, which was all in the matter of maybe ten seconds, the student was already crying and apologizing.
Being told to “f- off” by one of your students will definitely be something that you remember. Oddly enough, it is an experience that I wear with pride. After informing some of my colleagues of the incident, rather than feeling embarrassed (because I was a first year teacher and perhaps being told off by a student felt like it revealed some lack of classroom management and authority), I felt empowered like I had just earned some teaching medal of honor.
In the battlefield that is your classroom, when you get hit with something unexpectedly, you have to think quickly. Especially for new teachers, there can be occasions in the classroom that leave you flatfooted but that heat-seeking “F-Bomb” aimed directly at you cannot be one of them! If so, you run the risk of looking weak and not in control. Facing the “f**k off” is one more testament to the unforeseen situations that teachers face daily. Time and maturity will hopefully heal the fractured relationship that may occur after such an experience with a student. It is a reminder that even though we are teachers, we are human too. Catching an “F-Bomb” is an experience in facing that honest reality.
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