Seeing the Child behind the Anger

Many of my third-graders are very angry. They have good reason. Growing up in the most violent area in Oakland, many have lost family members to violence or experienced racial injustice. They distrust the people who are supposed to protect them.

Anthony was one of my angriest students. His father was in prison. Anthony told me that he wanted to kill his father because fathers aren’t supposed to leave their families. He was 6 years old at the time.

The smallest things could set him off: another student looking at him for too long, not understanding a math concept or rain keeping him from outdoor recess. When he would get angry, even older students ran away.

I tried different techniques to help Anthony deal with his anger, some more effective than others. I had a college-student volunteer who took a great interest in him. Anthony worked with the counselor at school and told me he had learned to imagine himself calmly eating ice cream and playing Go Fish with this volunteer whenever he got too upset.

One time, Anthony told me that there was nothing good about himself. I decided to create a “Ten Good Things About Anthony” list. As soon as I told him my plan, he became angry, but he didn’t leave. I’d suggest an item, type it and ask him if he had any ideas. He would yell that this was the stupidest thing he had ever heard of. It was excruciating, but we finally got to number 10.

I printed the list out and told Anthony I wanted him to know that there were good things about him. He screamed that there weren’t any good things about him, crumpled up the paper, threw it in the garbage can and stomped out.

I turned back to the computer and heard the door open and someone rustling in the garbage can. When I turned back around, Anthony’s backpack disappeared though the door. The garbage can was empty.

I lost touch with Anthony after elementary school, but recently saw him in a PBS documentary about incarcerated young African-American men.

I have no idea if anything that any of us at the school did ever helped Anthony. After he left my class, he would sometimes find me and say, “Ms. Harris, you need to help me calm down! You’re the only one who can calm me down!” Maybe it was simply that he knew I hadn’t given up on him.

Seeing him in the documentary reminded me of all this. I still don’t think it’s too late for him. As an adult, I’m sure Anthony has realized that the world, in many ways, is even more unfair that he imagined. But I hope he can also know, somehow, that there are still people who believe in him and believe that he is more than his anger.

Harris is a teacher, tutor and volunteer in California.


Wow, what a story and what a

Submitted by Yolanda B. on 25 January 2014 - 9:47am.

Wow, what a story and what a caring teacher. I am going to do the "Ten good things about....." with my students. I am a school counselor at an elementary school. Our kids are also dealing with a lot of issues like parents using drugs, parents in prison, child abuse, etc. It's on us, the adults, to see beyond the anger. What a wonderful way to communicate with the kids the good that we see in them.

Ms Harris did her best to

Submitted by Mr.Suhas Patwardhan ( India) on 18 May 2012 - 9:11pm.

Ms Harris did her best to transform Anthony. Love begets love, goodwill generates goodwill.
An impressionable mind as that of Anthony's needed to be " de cluttered " of concepts of low
self-esteem or minus self esteem.An endeavour to appreciate the good things and to help such
qualities surface is commendable indeed . Teachers get an opportunity to assess and evaluate
the children by their EQs ( emotional quotient) and enable them to improve their EQs.
My best wishes to Ms. Harris for embarking upon a challenging job against all odds.

Prof.( Mr) Suhas Patwardhan
M.A.( English literature ,1976)
University of Bombay.
Freelance Journalist

Thank you.

Submitted by Bronwyn Harris on 14 August 2012 - 2:39am.

Thank you.