I was in the hallway one day a few years ago. It was an ordinary day--unremarkable even. It was passing time and there were kids everywhere. Suddenly, trouble erupted. A few feet from me, a young woman (let's call her Felicia), began screaming and cursing. The altercation had begun when another student had angered her by bumping into her, or walking to close, or saying something, or some other trivial, unintentional slight. Felicia flipped out; I mean, she lost her mind. She screamed and cursed and started to physically confront the offender.
I tried to get her attention and divert her towards my room. Luckily, Felicia and I were not strangers. Though she was a Junior at this time, she had been in my class in 9th grade and we had remained friendly--every day she cruised my hall, and every day, I said hi. Actually, as I recall, she and her best friend had become my personal wardrobe consultants and I could expect a fashion report at least once a day.
But, I digress. In this moment, Felicia had gone completely off the deep end. And Felicia, by the way, was not a diminutive child. She had heft, substance, and she could have squashed me flat with a hard look.
Finally, I succeeded in capturing Felicia's attention and I knew I had a split second to change the negative trajectory of the situation...
So I said the first thing that popped into my head. I said "Hey, Felicia, I need you to do something for me. I need you to gather up all your anger and rage and I need you to put it in this invisible box."
And mimed a holding a shoe box.
Did I mention that sometimes I say the weirdest things?!?
Felicia froze. She blinked. And then she dissolved into hysterical laughter. She called me a crack head, or crazy person or something.
I invited her to sit in the back of room until she was well and truly calm. She accepted. She got out some homework and sat quietly for about 15 minutes. We had a brief chat about what had happened. She freely admitted she had over reacted because she was having a bad day and apologized for her "outburst." Then she thanked me, promised to find and apologize to the other student, and went back to her day.
It could have gone either way really. I didn't know it would work, I just knew I had to try and break the tension, the mood, the momentum of her anger, to get Felicia back into the sane lane.
I wish I could say it was my idea, but I stole the idea from something I had read recently that suggested asking students to stow their baggage in an invisible box upon entering the classroom to promote positive focus. I guess the image stuck with me.
I can tell you the sight of this big, crazed girl being overtaken by giggles mid-melt down has stuck with me. It reinforces my belief that breaking an emotional spell can do far more good than almost any form of confrontation. Teenagers revel in the ridiculous--saying something weird to break the tension is one positive way I try to indulge them...and occasionally my proclivity for verbal oddities turns into a genuinely good thing...