I Don’t Tango

I tell my students every year that there are two ways to answer a reprimand or a request; one will get them into more trouble, while the other will get the adults off their backs.

Let’s say Ralph is walking down the hall, jabbing everyone he passes.  Catching his eye, I give him The Look and beckon him over.

“Yes?” he asks, trying his best to look innocent.

“Please walk down the hall without touching anybody,” I reply.

“Okay,” he says with a guilty grin.

“Thank you,” I say. “Now continue as you were – WITHOUT touching anyone.”  And off he goes.

But look what happens when I call Sam over the next day for doing the same thing:

“What’d I do?” he asks defensively.

“Please walk down the hall without touching anybody,” I reply.

“I wasn’t touching anybody!”

“Good.  Please don’t ever touch anybody in the hallway.”

“I said I didn’t do it!  Why’re you always picking on me?!?”

Now I have a choice to make:  stand and argue with him, or find a way to defuse the situation.  I know from experience that no matter how long we argue, an angry teen will never reach the point where he’ll say, “You’re right.  I’m sorry.”  In fact, in such a situation things can get ugly in a hurry, so I will try a couple different tactics to defuse.

One is to hold up my index finger to stop him from ranting (I call it “giving him The One” – also useful for curbing interrupting students).  I’ll say something like, “Hold on.  You can either stand there and plead your case, or you can say ‘Okay’ and be on your way.  Want to try again?”

Another is to use humor:  “I checked my calendar today, and it said it’s Pick On Sam Day.  I’m just doing my job!”

A third is to deliver a mini lecture:  “When you talk to me that way, I don’t feel very respected.  Things would go a lot easier for you if you’d just accept the consequence of your behavior by saying ‘Okay’ or ‘Yes, Mrs. Acuna.’  Next time, you might try that instead of arguing.”

Notice I don’t engage in an argument that will make us both mad.  Instead, I try to give us a way to extricate ourselves from the situation with our respective dignities intact.

As my dad used to say, “It takes two to tango.”  I simply refuse to put on my dancing shoes.


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