Recently, I heard an story from writer David Mandel (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Veep) about his time on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90's. Nicole Kidman, who was married to Tom Cruise at the time, was hosting and Mandel was tasked with writing her monologue.
He decided on a premise where she took questions from the "audience" (which was populated with cast members or writers as "plants".) Every question would be about Cruise (who, arguably, was the biggest blockbuster star of the day.) After the 3rd or 4th question about Cruise, Kidman would run off stage in frustration. Moments later, she would reappear, dramatically sliding across the stage while wearing only a man's white dress shirt, boxers and a pair of white socks - a look made famous by Cruise in his 1983 film "Risky Business". She would then recreate the dance scene from the movie, complete with couch and trophy microphone.
Just as Mandel was about to scrap the plan and return to his writing desk to pen a new monologue, Kidman's personal assistant caught wind of the situation and approached him. Quietly she said, "It's not about the floor - she's just really nervous about performing on live television. It'll be fine."
That story stuck with me because I recognized its application to my profession. When dealing with a student who is angry, rude, confrontational, oppositional, even violent; it is important to remember that it often has nothing to do with the things that seem the most likely triggers, or even the things that they say are bothering them. There are a host of other questions you need to consider.
Are they hungry?
Are they tired?
Are they feeling unloved?
Are they feeling vulnerable?
Are they frightened?
Likely, it isn't something that can be solved quickly or easily, regardless of the help you might enlist from those around you. Sometimes, it's just about being patient and kind...and listening. Sometimes it is about realizing...
"It's not about the floor".