When Kim Williams walked into her first classroom on the southwest side of Chicago, she thought gaining students' respect would be easy. After all, she reasoned, she had just graduated from college and could relate to them better than older teachers. And when it came to discipline, she figured she would simply talk to them the way the students talked to each other.
But 26 years later, experience has given her the perspective to see that her approach was the wrong one.
"I was young, naïve, and inexperienced," she said. "In those early days there were some scary moments, because I didn't know how to talk to a teenager." Williams recalls a confrontation that occurred between her and a student after her first few weeks teaching students with special needs at Harper High School in Chicago and how badly she dealt with it.
"This girl said she was going to leave the classroom and I put my hand on the door, got in her face and said, 'no, you're not leaving. You'd better go sit down!' The girl said she was going to knock me down. I told her to try it."
At that point of heightened tension, an aide happened to be walking around the hallway, saw the confrontation, and brought back the assistant principal. The student was promptly suspended from school, and Williams was reprimanded by the administrator.