Implication and Inference

Dear Terrence,

I apologize for having to remove you from the classroom today. Unfortunately, I won’t allow a student to stay in the classroom once he or she has threatened another student. The potential for an outbreak of violence is just too great. I’m sure you understand.

Or maybe not. When we discussed it in the hall, you seemed irate at the suggestion you’d threatened someone. You cocked your head to one side, furrowed that brow aggressively, and demanded, “How did I threaten him? What did I say, huh?” Ignoring for the moment the simple fact that your aggressive behavior toward me could easily have been construed as threatening, I explained that when you stand up and call across the room, “Say my name one more time! Say it!” you’re threatening.

“How?” you demanded in your often-bellicose “I’m-playing-offended-and-half-angry” defensive tone. “I didn’t say I was going to hit him.”

And at that moment, the whole mini-lesson flashed before my “always be teaching!” mind.

“It’s because of what we’ve been talking about all year, what we’ve been practicing week after week. Sure you didn’t say you were going to hit him, but you sure implied it, with your tone, your body language, and the elliptical statement. Everyone finished it in their head. Everyone inferred the same thing: ‘Say my name one more time, and I’ll beat the hell out of you.’ Everyone knew exactly what you meant. We inferred it, just like I’m trying always to get you guys to infer things from our readings.”

I’m not sure it did much good. When I went into the classroom to check on the students, I heard you punch the wall several times. (You do like punching, don’t you? I’ve noticed through the year you swing at things throughout the day, always fake-fighting with someone when you think the teacher isn’t watching and you can get by with such prohibited horseplay or even when you’re just walking down the hall. I’ve often wondered if this is where you drive the majority of your self-esteem. Perhaps beating people up is the only thing you feel you’re good at.) As I was saying, I heard you punch the wall, and I decided that there was no way, given the threat and the now physically aggressive behavior, that I could allow you back into my classroom.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again, to you and to all the Terrences I’ll meet next year and the following year and the year after that: you’re creating some bad habits, some unhealthy reactions, that are going to get you into some serious trouble as you grow older if you don’t learn to control them. By “serious” I mean imprisonment. Or worse.

I wish you’d keep that in mind when we’re dealing with your seemingly daily blow-ups. I wish you’d understand that, even when I’m removing you from the classroom, I’m still on your side. (I’m just on the other students’ side as well, and I won’t let you hurt them.) I wish you’d understand why I don’t simply write administrative referrals on you every chance I get so that I can make sure you’re out of my classroom, rewarded with a suspension and making my morning a little easier.

Maybe someday you will. It’s almost a cliche that we teachers are only planting seeds that might not blossom for many more years. I just hope that that blossoming realization doesn’t occur after you’ve already crossed a line you can un-cross.

As always, worried,
Your Teacher


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