I thought I would make it through the whole class period, but I was wrong . . . again. It was nine o’clock. With only ten minutes before the class was dismissed, it happened. Paula began spouting a string of less-than-complimentary adjectives at the poor fourth grade classmate who had irritated her. To spare her victim further verbal abuse, I asked Paula if we could chat for a moment, and she followed me to the window. I told her I knew she was upset and that it was okay to be angry, but that she had to try to control her emotions a little. Then I talked with her about building a birdhouse.
“Paula, if we were going to build a birdhouse out of wood, what tools would we need?”
“A hammer?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” she blurted out angrily.
“Maybe . . . a saw? A screwdriver? Some nails, and sandpaper?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“You’re right, Paula. We would need all of those tools. It would be silly for us to only use a hammer. With a hammer we can only pound things.”
Paula nodded, but was definitely wondering what my tools tutorial had to do with her angry outburst.
“Just like we would need a tool kit for constructing something new, we have to have a mental tool kit to help us solve our everyday problems. Depending on the situation, we might need to take out the “pliers of patience” or the “level of love” or the “clamp of kindness.” Just like building a birdhouse, we can’t solve every problem with a hammer. It’s not your fault if it’s the only tool you have right now, but we can work together on adding some new tools to your kit so you’ll be happier in class, right?”
Paula smiled and said, “Yes.” Even though what I had said was difficult for her to hear, she felt understood. And in the end, that’s what you want from people who only have a hammer. Sadly, many of our students (and some of the adults in our lives) have not been taught to use different tools to help them work through teasing, frustration, and the complications of daily life. It’s part of our job to teach students to use a variety of “tools” or coping strategies in the classroom.
By chance, have you encountered a person like Paula lately? If it’s a student, you might consider having the same sort of talk with him or her. If it’s an adult, the conversation might not be possible. But one thing is certain. It is easier to love and understand someone when you realize they only have (or choose to use) one tool. If that’s the case and a conversation is out of the question, just reach into your own tool kit and take out . . . your pliers, level, and clamp . . .