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Life lessons Memoir & Narratives

The day I flipped out at the social security office

Sometimes my students become really angry. I can relate.

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Photo: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Teaching middle school is a tough gig. Kids in grades sixth through eighth grade can be loud, impulsive, and frenetic. It’s enough on some days to make me consider finding another vocation. So at the end of a long day when I’m telling myself that there is no way I’m teaching middle schoolers another year, it helps to recall that I, too, can be loud, impulsive, and frenetic.

In fact, I once was so loud, impulsive, and frenetic that someone should have reported me. Someone probably would today.  What makes my story even worse is that my meltdown occurred when I was 26, twice the age of my seventh-graders. It’s embarrassing to recall how immature and idiotic I behaved. But, hey, at least I can empathize with my students when they have their own moments of anger.

Here’s my story. It was 1992, around 4:28 on a hot Thursday afternoon a few months after my wedding day the previous April. I was at the social security office located in a Phoenix office building to fill out a form update my social security account to my new last name.

I turned the knob to open the maple hardwood door. It didn’t turn. Didn’t even budge. So I knocked. No reply. I turned the knob again. Yes, it was definitely locked. I heard the shuffling of papers inside the office. The lights were on. There were people still there and they weren’t letting me in.

I reflected on the situation. I had taken off from work early to arrive before the 4:30 closing time. If the taxpayer-supported personnel on the other side of the door didn’t answer, I grumbled, I would have to do this all over again another day.

I was incensed. I felt cheated. I made a scene. I knocked again. I asked, “Can someone let me in?” I knocked again, this time more loudly. I asked, this time a little louder, “Is anyone there? Could you please just take this form?” It was just a silly form. A piddly piece of paper. Someone just needed to take it from my hand, I thought in desperation.

And so I pounded on the door. I couldn’t think. I was out of control and I didn’t care who saw me. I got down on my hands and knees—in my dress and heels—to look under the door. I could see feet moving around inside. There were whispers. It was now 4:31, a measly minute past closing time. No response. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I would be heard.

I stood back up and continued to pound the door. The adjacent window, conveniently crafted of obscured glass, revealed shapes and shadows within.

“I know you’re in there!” I yelled, continuing to pound. “I can see you moving back and forth! Take this form so I can leave!”

But they didn’t. No one ever answered the door. So I left, angry, red-faced, and embarrassed, knowing with disgust that I would have to return to this hallway within the week.

I came back a few days later well before the closing time and quietly and politely conducted my business. I didn’t even complain about the poor service of a few days earlier, which was probably a mistake in retrospect. Then again, they would have figured out I was the loud, impulsive, and frenetic woman from earlier in the week and might have called security.

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Photo: Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Looking back now at my social security office fiasco demonstrates that anger can get the best of us… even those of us who know better than to throw a tantrum at age 26.

My past experience with such intense anger helps me to empathize with my students today.

And honestly, I’ve only witnessed one to two student meltdowns in my classroom during my years of teaching. I can usually ward off an angry episode with a quickly whispered conversation, or, for another example, an invitation to the student to leave the room to get a drink to literally cool off. Tactics such as these help to diminish the anger.

But anger does happen once in a great while and I totally understand where it comes from.

  • Sometimes students feel powerless. Been there. That’s exactly how I felt that day in that office.
  • Sometimes students feel they’re at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. Done that. At the social security office, my priority did not align with the office personnel’s at that particular moment.
  • Sometimes students yell. Check. It’s just a natural reaction when it seems no one is listening to you.
  • Sometimes they argue. Me, too. We all have ideas we want to communicate.

Yes, I can relate to the frustrations my students feel and how they express those feelings of helplessness and lack of control. In the environment of school–or any other setting where people with different priorities meet up–tensions arise and play themselves out in myriad ways… even so far as taking to the floor in your dress and heels to yell through the crack. Wait—at least my students haven’t tried that yet. Gotta give ’em credit for that.


Thanks for reading! If you found this interesting, please click “like” and feel free to leave a comment. I also write on my teaching blog called elabraveandtrue.com and Medium.com. Check out both sites for more writing. 

By marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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