The spitball dilemma is not an esoteric, abstraction. It’s a right here, right now problem and thoroughly in your court. You have a second or two, three at the most, to come up with a solution. Quick you check your food bar supply. The minute the bus comes to a stop, you leap up, nearly knocking the kid on your left off her seat. With a wet wipe, you pick up the nearest spitball. With your other hand, you tap Brent on the shoulder. “Come to my office, please,” you say in the sweetest tone you can muster. “Come to my office” is the line you’ve used with kids for months to discuss anything from “Do you need lunch money today?” to “I heard you smacked Samantha in the lunch line so now we need to fix the damage” The “office” is anywhere you can move away from the other kids—outside the classroom door, to the side of the recess field, to a corner of the cafeteria… You get the idea. The kids know by now you will not embarrass them in front of the class and that often these little trips to the office are for an extra treat or “I caught you being good” slip they can take to parents to exchange for privileges like extra computer time at home.
You wave your hand to signal to that you need a conference before everyone storms the bus exit door, careful to make meaningful eye-contact with the team leader. She gets it. “Slight delay,” you shout.
Brent grins his loopy grin, hand half out for the treat. You lead him to the front of the bus. Zelda can hear every sigh, every breath, every word.
You address the bus riders, “Brent has a very quick problem up here. We need a private minute.”
Kids understand what “private moment” means, usually a bathroom emergency they want no part of. They stall at their seats, grumbling and peering over each other’s shoulders. The other teachers rolls their eyes. The chaperones crane to hear.
“Brent, we have a serious problem.”
Brent is all sympathy and nonchalance.
You hold out the wet wipe with the spitball.
“This is the finest specimen of a spitball in the United States. If I had a medal, I would award it to you right his minute.”
Zelda huffs in disgust.
Brent’s smile grows more loopy.
“What we all need, is to preserve these spitballs for posterity.”
You hold out the plastic bag and a fresh wet wipe.
“Before we leave the bus, every Brentball needs to be in this bag.”
You let it sink in. Slowly, slowly recognition dawns. Brent is very smart. His behavior is what lands him in special education not his learning ability. That and his little drug problem that nobody talks about because his parents donate heavily to school projects and go to the same church as the guidance counselor and principal.
“We need to keep them safe till the championship spitball contest next Friday.”
You’ve made this up on the spot.
Brent perks up, takes the wet wipe and deposits it into the plastic bag.
Waving maniacally, you address everyone else.
“There’s a food bar for the first ten volunteers to help Brent preserve his spitballs for the contest next Friday. You know the one we planned for math. They nod. It always works. Immediately fifteen hands shoot up. You select the ten nearest and pass out wet wipes.
You hold out the bag for everyone to see. “Every single one in this bag and we can leave the bus.”
It’s amazing how fast kids can work when the sounds of the fairgrounds are beckoning through the windows.
The kids unload from the bus and form into groups with their teacher or chaperone. The team leader looks at you like you’ve definitely overstepped your authority. You peek back inside the bus. Zelda scans the floor, looks at you and grunts. It’s the closest to a smile you’ll ever get.
As soon as you can get Brent aside, you say as casually as you can manage, “When we’re back on the bus, I’ll remind you of our agreement that there will be no more spitballs on the way home. Or no championship contest on Friday.”
He doesn’t bat an eye, doesn’t mention you never talked about an agreement, just grins that loopy grin.
Would this work for your kid?
What might you do differently?
How about another problem and how you solved it or just write about a problem you need help with.