Being the Alpha Dog

My father is a six-foot-four semi-giant.

Hang on.  Lemme see if I can rustle up his high school reunion photo.  I’ve got it here, somewhere…

Oh, yes:

Yessiree. That’s my pops.  The one standing a full head higher than the rest of the crew, right next to the sexy Native American stereotype. (Sigh.)   Not-so-subtle mascots from the pre-civil rights movement era aside, I have taught some ridiculously tall students (I think my record so far is 6’7), but I’ve found over the years that 6’4 is nothing to sneeze at.  And were I to sneeze at it, it probably wouldn’t provoke much of a response, as I stand at a much shorter (but respectable) 5’7 which pretty much assures the force of my flying boogers would only hit my pops right about at chest level.  Unpleasant?  Perhaps.  But hardly like coughing right in someone’s face as my students inevitably do to me multiple times per year.

What I’m getting at (although you might not know it), is that my dad can be fairly intimidating simply due to his sheer size.  Even more so when he was younger.  That came in handy during his years at a children’s home for emotionally disturbed teens.  6’4 and 200-plus pounds is a pretty sweet place to stand when a kid freaks out, busts a wooden chair into splinters and tries to kill another kid by stabbing him with the largest shard.

5’7 and a pansy 120 pounds?

Not so much.

And I look like a giant compared to some of my more dainty five-foot colleagues.  So, presuming that the world is always going to have five-foot teachers and football player-sized teenagers in the same room, just how are we delicate females supposed to maintain control?

By bein’ some badass bitches.

Every good teacher I’ve ever seen has been the  alpha dog.  Male or female?  Doesn’t matter a lick in maintaining control of a classroom.  Cocky-ass alpha attitude?  Oh, it matters.

“You see, Teach,”  my dad told me years ago, after the chair-splitting incident, “The thing is, if you tell teenagers to do something and you believe that they’re going to do it, they’ll do it.  If you tell them to do something but deep down you don’t really believe they’re going to do it, well, then, they won’t.”

In other words, if you know you’re in charge, everyone in the room knows it.  Doubt it for a second, however, and you’ve just put yourself at the mercy of the pack.

You can count yourself screw-diddly-ewed.

Once kids smell fear, it’s over.  So rule number one in classroom management?  Have no fear.

Easier said than done when you’re dealing with “children” who can squash you and yet over and over again, I’ve seen it work.  When I stared down my first 6’6’ giant at the inexperienced teaching age of 23 and told him to shut his mouth, sit in his desk and put his head down, it only occurred to me an hour after the fact that I would have had little recourse had he chosen not to do so.  That was the first time my father’s words came back to me.  Since then, I’ve launched myself into prom fights (wearing three-inch heels and a formal dress, thank you very much), stared down a pack of angry French punks harassing my students on a study-abroad trip (note: I don’t speak French) and dealt with  more attitude in class than the friggin’ pope gives blessings.

I am an idiotically cocky bossy-pants.

And yet it works.

I rarely boot a kid from my class, and even more rarely refer one to the principal for discipline.  Most of the time, structure takes care of the squirrelly kids.  Sarcasm handles 99.9% of the rest, “Wait…are you (gasp) a teenager who is giving me…no…it can’t be…attitude?  Gosh, I’ve never seen that before in my eight bajillion years of teaching.”

And if that doesn’t work?

“Johnny…Shut.  Your piehole. Now.”

And, like magic they do.

Until they get the one small whiff of fear.  That one tiny inkling that you think you don’t know what you’re doing.  They smell like your uncertainty like a pack of hungry coyotes after a juicy dead deer carcass and suddenly, you’re roadkill. There’s a new alpha in town and honey, it ain’t you.

And here, dear readers, is where I will fail you miserably.

I haven’t a clue how to teach a person to be an alpha.  If you is, you is, if you ain’t, you ain’t.  And if you ain’t…

You’s screwed.

But don’t give up hope yet.  Even if you’re feeling a bit like you fit in the “you ain’t” category right now, you might not yet know what you have in you,  as I learned so well from one dear mentee of mine.

But that’s a story for another time, friends.  Because this blog post is already getting long, and if you’re the kind of irreverent educator who reads my stuff, you probably have the attention span of a fourteen year old student 7th hour the day before winter break.

But have no fear…

“I Didn’t Know I Was An Alpha Until I Cracked”

Coming soon, to a blog post near you…

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8 Responses to Being the Alpha Dog

  1. Erika S. says:

    you say it like it is.
    Even though I tower over my high school students at 6’0″, without the “you better check yourself” attitude, they’d still squash me like a fly.

  2. I wore really high heels when I taught the bigger ones – just so I could look them in the face. When I had class with the younger ones I would change my shoes. Teaching in heels is a bitch, but hey, you go with what works right?

  3. ymartblog says:

    Brilliant! So true! I too wear heels more often than not as my students from a variety of backgrounds seem to tower over me.

    GIve them an inch and they will take a mile. Befriend the class leader, be he an asinine twerp with the majority level of a 7 year old or a “mean” girl par examplar, in order to rule your class. There seems to be no common sense in who students choose as leaders . Crack a good joke and s/he will be class president in a high school class! My theory has never been proven wrong. Puts fear into my heart!

    Thank you for making me feel I am not alone in this crazy world of teaching!

  4. Pingback: “I Didn’t Know I Was An Alpha Until I Cracked” | Singing Pigs

  5. So good to read this post! I am 5″2 and known as a “bitch”, but, like you, I don’t have to do any of the follow up discipline others do like sending kids out, going to management, etc. It’s all about long term gain! I was reminded of my 3 year old daughter – I’m just as tough with her but lately I’ve noticed the benefits. She plays up for my husband like she never does for me and while my mum says she won’t have anything but a honey sandwich she’ll happily munch on a capsicum like an apple with me. Tough = kindness in the long term!

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