The recent shootings at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., — besides being horrific — got me wondering how and why people came to intervene. And this brought me to thinking about someone I know who’s been a teacher for years.
After she’d taught grade school for about a decade, she changed grade levels and so encountered a junior high student who was her height and may have weighed more than she did. How did she encounter him? He was upset and pushing fellow students aside as he headed for the school’s exit before the end of the school day. When he reached her, he pushed her aside and so up against the lockers as he headed toward the school’s exit. Caught unaware, she ricocheted off the lockers.
I doubt she was injured; what I do know is that she quickly regained her composure, told the boy to stop, and when he didn’t, she grabbed him and pinned him up against the lockers until he was sufficiently under control that he could be walked to the principal’s office.
“How,” I once asked her, “did you have the temerity to take on a boy who was your size, clearly out of control and might even have been carrying a knife? Weren’t you concerned for your own safety?
“Why would I be concerned? He might have hurt one of the other kids,” she said. “And besides, what was the alternative?”
Of course, she was right. Any lesser response would have emboldened the boy, risked the safety of kids he might meet outside the school and even future outcomes based on an already successful disregard for others. Far better he should suffer appropriate consequences now and so experience that outrageous behavior is both unacceptable and results in disciplinary action.
Where did she learn this philosophy? At home, of course.
She came from three generations of teachers, almost all women, and, if my recollections of them are correct, they all put the health and safety of their students and colleagues ahead of their own.
How did this come to be? I understand from another family member that everyone kind of grew up knowing that if someone else was in harm, you just step in and do what you can to stop it.
Another example: One of the teacher’s nieces, at age 6 (she currently teaches high school) sat on the school bus next to a developmentally delayed 9-year-old girl. One day, her mom was concerned when the school bus was late coming home.
When the bus showed up, the bus driver got with the girl and explained to her mom that something happened on the ride that morning that mom needed to know about.
It seems that some sixth-grade boys who sat in the back of the bus had been teasing her daughter’s friend about her disability (though they called it something else) as they walked down the bus’ aisle to their seats in back.
The daughter looked aghast at the boys as they walked by, and then got up, walked to the back where they were sitting, put her hands on her hips, screwed up her face, and said, “You can’t do that to her! She’s my friend!”
The bus driver said the boys stopped their teasing and talked quietly among themselves the rest of the trip.
Mom thanked the bus driver for sharing the story and was pleased with and praised her daughter for standing up for her friend.
When I asked mom about the incident, she turned to me and said, “What else could she have done?”
Good question. Doing nothing would not have told the 11-year-old boys their behavior was both unacceptable and unnoticed. What’s more, it held them up for critical scrutiny by others. And they needed to learn that bad behavior has consequences, whether from a 6-year-old, a bus driver or others.
Recall that the 6-year-old’s efforts didn’t result in a heightened confrontation with the boys, and this is an important point: Not all inappropriate behavior need result in violence.
I recall another member of the family, a man about 6 foot, 3 inches tall and 200-plus pounds, who was completing a construction program at a community college in town. It seems that every Friday after class, the program’s students would go out for a beer. On one occasion, a very large man (my contact called him “a Viking”) came up to him as he stood at the bar and bumped him with his shoulder. My friend moved over, and the Viking moved over, too, bumping him again in the shoulder.
My friend then turned to the man, smiled, and said, “If you wanna fight, that’s fine. But you’re gonna have to send out for a pizza.”
“A pizza?” the man asked, caught off guard and so confused. “Why?”
“Cause we’re gonna be here all night,” was the answer.
The man grunted, turned around, and walked away because what he’d heard caught him off guard, and he forgot his original intentions.
I’m pretty impressed with all three of these family members because they firmly believe anyone who tramples on the rights of others is wrong. And they’re prepared to intervene because that’s the right thing to do. The only question I have is whether I have the temerity to do the same if I see someone threatening another person. I surely hope so.