I could have been a lot of things – but I don’t think I would have gotten as many hugs. Contact comfort. I always think of the study with the monkeys, in which they put baby monkeys in a room with two ‘mothers’ made out of wire, one of which was covered in soft, fuzzy cloth, and the other which was equipped to provide milk to the babies. The monkeys were smart (after all, we did descend from them) and quickly figured out where to go to get sustenance. What was interesting however, was that when they were not feeding, they gravitated towards the other mother – who gave them nothing concrete, but provided them with ‘contact comfort’.
In the halls, students are always hugging me. One little girl told me that I was the kindest teacher – which made me simultaneously smile and cringe, as I recognize for the millionth time that I’m simply not scary enough. But then I think that they may need some contact comfort – not literally, as hugging students does make me a bit uncomfortable, as much as they need other things in their lives.
The other day was the worst I have had yet – where an entire period went to waste because one of my classes was so out of control. It was the entire class, and was nearly impossible to isolate the people who were at the center of the problem. That’s always the goal – to isolate the problem and deal with those few students who are really at its base. In this class, my largest, it is always someone different, and today it was everyone. At one point there was a fight in the hall outside my door, and Shanika shouted out to let everyone know. Immediately, of course, everyone needs to spring from there seats to see what is going on. I scream at them and they return to their seats, but when I cross the room to shut the door they all rise again. I turned around from shutting the door to see 20 kids flying towards me, and I yelled at them to sit down – panicking at the loss of control.
“Miss! You were scared – hahahaha – your face was all red when you saw us all coming at you!”
“SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP” I chant inside my head, over and over and over again. I stare at my watch, angry that this class is taking so long to get through and wishing I could write them all up. I am tempted to pull out my cell and begin calling their parents now – thrusting the phone angrily at them and having them tell their parents what they did. I am furious by the time that they leave, and at a complete loss of how to reach them. I have 12 kids stay after class and write down their phone numbers so that I can easily call their homes, but when I look at the list, I don’t want to call any parents – I find myself unable to pin the blame for the day on anyone but myself.
Later that same day, people begin coming to visit me, just to say hey – they waltz into my classroom during my prep periods, and ask if I need help hanging up a poster or organizing something. Undoubtedly, this is an attempt to skip some other class, but these kids who come to my class are the same ones I was contemplating slipping a valium to earlier in the day, and now they are looking needy and insecure and young – not bolstered by the confidence and pressure of a class of their peers. It’s the boys and the girls, the loud ones and the quiet ones. It’s the ones who are far too big for the 7th grade, and those who are much too small. And they still drive me nuts – and they can still ruin a day – but it’s SO important that I remember that they are little kids, who still need contact comfort and kindness as much as they need food and water.