You are passionate about your students and about teaching, there is no denying that. For that reason, when you have a REALLY challenging student, it is a struggle. You want to reach that student, but you also don’t want to sacrifice the other students and their learning environment. It is a mental and emotional tug-of-war that you deal with day in and day out. You do what you can and play each day by ear.
And you are TIRED!
Well, I just want to encourage you to keep it up! Don’t give up! Keep making those hard choices every day! We both know it will make a difference one day for that student(s)…even if it is in the far future and you will never know.
To help you do this and stay inspired to keep going, I went into the future and got that student to write you a letter. What, you didn’t know I had a time machine? 🙂
I’m attaching the letter to the end of this note. I hope it reminds you why you do the things you do. You are awesome and REALLY ARE making a difference! Don’t give up! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
It is early in the year, but if you have been teaching for at least a year I bet you already know something about your class(es).
We all know that there is always “that one student” in your class that, well…you know who I’m talking about.
Have you found him/her yet? Have you identified that student that is going to make the year more, um, interesting?
I am not saying all of this to mean that there is always going to be a defiant student that you just can’t reach. I am just admitting the reality that there usually seems to be at least one student (or more than one) whom it will be more off a challenge to connect (and operate class with him/her in the room some days).
I am sure that we have all seen the meme, or some form of it, that tells us something that is probably true about this student.
I guess it may be kind of a cliched thought at this point, but it is nonetheless true. These students are probably fighting battles that we have no way of knowing. They are acting out in response to the reality that they know or as a way to gain control of their lives in some way. I think we all know this and may even know some of the child’s story.
How in the [choose your own word to go here] are we supposed to teach when that student is “looking for love in all the wrong places” and you have a classroom of other students who aren’t?
What is worse is that sometimes these students learn that if they do this often enough, they are in complete control and this feels good against the chaos backdrop of their lives . Things that feel good are often repeated. This repetition causes a different kind of chaos for you and your other students. Not to mention you have an ongoing problem that makes other teachers and administration question your classroom management skills.
Gee, thanks for reminding me what to look forward to…
Do not fret, I have something for you to try!
Okay, I am going to be honest, this idea is not my own, but I have stumbled upon pieces of it by accident almost every year that I have taught (this year will be number ten). The basis of it is simple, and I think it is something we all know intrinsically (however, it is so hard to practice sometimes).
The key to working with difficult students is what you do when there is no crisis.
If the only attention that these students get from you is when there is a classroom disruption or some kind of drama and these students are acting out as way to get the attention they crave…one plus one equals two…they are going to show out in your class. I can say that with as much certainty as I can say that the Sun shines during the day more than at night. It is not rocket surgery (yes, I know what I did there).
This means that they have to have attention from you unrelated to their behavior. Oh, and just praising the “good stuff” is not enough. That is still based on behavior. If they want attention and are used to getting it for negative things, the negative is easier for them to attain. If “being good” is a stretch from what is comfortable and they want the attention without working for it, get ready for negative behaviors that disrupt your class. It may be less often, but it will still happen.
No, you can’t base your connection with them on behavior (but praising the positive is still very, very important).
You have got to build a relationship with these students (and arguably all students) based on them being human people that deserve respect for who they are more than what they’ve done.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that we ignore behavior! No. Consequences for negative behaviors and praise for positive is also a needed aspect of humanity that will help children grow into better adults. Behavior is important! However, there is something that these students need that they aren’t getting much of…connection with adults based on who they are and not what they do. This type of attention will help them slowly learn to think through choices and pay attention, eventually, more to their behavior.
Connection in the most important attention that these students need.
All students need this type of attention. Most students get this type of attention at home, school, or elsewhere. A lot of times our most difficult students do not. They need it and don’t know it, and they are not getting it. They get attention (and control) the only way they know how…and sometimes this is unfortunately at the expense of your class time.
You know the need, so now how about a strategy for trying to meet it?
We have so much on our plates as teachers, how are we going to find time for individual students (that probably drive us up a wall most days)?
Little of the time should come during class time.
We all know those moments in the day we can use. Elementary teachers can build a minute or two into transition time (have the other students transition while you take a moment to talk to the one student). Middle School and High School teachers can use hallway transition times (or other times that can be built into class time…like the small transitions in class). Also, giving these students class jobs go a long way, too, and gives you time to talk.
How do you build the relationships during these little moments?
That is where the strategy I mentioned that is not my idea comes in…
The 2 x 10 Strategy
No, I am not suggesting that you use a large piece of lumber to help the student behave better! It is a strategy of using little moments with difficult students to help connect with them and give them that connection they need.
The 2 x 10 Strategy is something that was discussed by several teachers in the Encouraging Teachers Facebook group (this group only excepts new members a couple of times of year, but there are other groups like this on Facebook, as well). It was further explained by Angela Watson through a blog post that I highly recommend that you read for more details and discussion on this.
Simply put, the idea is that you talk to the student for two minutes a day for at least ten consecutive days in a row and let them talk about whatever they want for the whole time (with little input back from you…it is their time).
Too easy to be true?
Maybe…but think about it. It is likely that these students almost never get this kind of attention and conversation from adult in their lives (or anyone else). We crave this. This is why we have friends. This is why we spend time with family. This is a part of the reason we need a planning period…to connect with other people. It makes sense to think that students crave this, too, even if they don’t know it or how to vocalize it….so they get attention they way they know how…and we have already discussed that cycle!
This conversations are a way to cut the attention-seeking behavior short and help you build a lasting connection and rapport with students who may be wrecking class time from time-to-time, and instead they become one of your greatest allies in class.
I say it is worth a shot.
It is early in the year and there probably haven’t been major disruptions from these students yet. Why not give this strategy a try? What do you have to lose? This is your chance to try something different by teaching smaller to help all of your students succeed in your class. That is what you signed up to do, isn’t? This is your year to do it better than ever!
You really do make a difference and are an amazing teacher! I do believe that this will be the best year ever for you. Be awesome…and you are because you can’t help it! Keep going and keep on teaching, Teacher!
I was going to take a break from writing over Thanksgiving break, but I had a rough day on Tuesday (the last day of school for me before break) so I have been reflective. My reflections have been some thoughts that I really feel like I should write down. Writing helps me process them and will make them real to me. I decided to write them to you because, maybe, you are going through something similar and need some similar encouragement and thoughts.
This is one of those times that I am writing to myself and letting you listen in. Eavesdrop away, Teacher.
Too often I let myself get wrapped up in the actions, behavior, and/or attitude of one or a small handful of students. I let this small cluster change my day and change my attitude because of these students. I let this affect how I am feeling and change my behavior, actions, and reactions towards other students and my coworkers. I let this make me feel like a failure. I let this make me feel like a bad teacher. I let this make me doubt my choices the led to becoming a teacher at all.
These feelings do not last long, but they are nonetheless real. The feelings do affect me. They really do. Even if they are short-lasted, they do take a toll on me from time to time.
I know I shouldn’t let this happen. I know that letting one or a few students make me go down this road is not productive. But it happens. Every year. At least once or twice. The cycle begins and I have to work through it.
If I know that this cycle is not productive, why do I keep letting myself get forced into it? Do I have to go through this cycle? Do I have to let the few students affect how I am with the many other students that are learning and doing the right things every day? Do I need to go through this cycle of doubt and wonder about my choices?
If not, how do I avoid it?
Don’t get me wrong, reflection and analyzing what we do and say is important. It is vital. I am not saying that. I know that doubt can make you stronger when you work through it. I am just talking about the cycle that a handful of students can take you down where this few makes you feel like a failure as a teacher. Where your focus is on them and not the rest of your students who are thriving in your class. (I guess I should mention that it is not always the student that makes you feel like a failure…sometimes it is a parent like happened for me last year.)
So, how do I avoid this?
Today being Thanksgiving gave me a thought. Maybe one tool that helps here, one weapon in this battle, is thankfulness. Gratitude. The attitude of taking stock of what is going well instead of what is not.
Being thankful for the good things takes your focus off of what is going wrong. It puts into perspective that things really aren’t that bad and you that you can build on those things that are going great. It lets you see the “silver lining” and move on. Thankfulness lets the not-so-great things roll off your back like water off of a duck.
Being a thankfully reflective teacher can change you…especially in the moment when one or few students make you feel like you aren’t doing a good job.
Really? Can it be that simple?
I don’t know that this is all of it, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. A big step in that direction. As I have thought about this on this Thanksgiving morning, some of my stress from Tuesday has started to melt away. Not all of it, but a lot of it. It is changing my attitude. It is changing me. It is letting me remember why I do what I do and put up with what I put up with.
It is refilling my patience. That is a feat that is hard to do in the thick of a school year! I will be honest, it helps that I have a break from school…but I still needed a patience refill!
So, what can we be thankful for as teachers?
I am just going make a quick “Thankful List” for me. You can be thankful for whatever you need to be thank for…it sounds simplistic, but I think it will make a difference for you as it has for me. What are you teacher-thankful for?
My Thankful Teacher List
I have a job. That is important. Not all teachers have one right now.
I work at a great school with great teachers. ‘Nuff said. 🙂
I am on the best team of teachers at a school of great teachers.
I have wonderful, amazing students.
I have students who actually care when I am having a bad day.
I have students succeeding in my class who have had little success in school to this point (and I teach 6th grade).
I have students whose behavior has improved immensely and they are really starting to take their job as a student seriously.
Almost all of my students are interested in science, even if they haven’t been until this year (I teach science).
Most of my students work, cause no problems, and are improving in their ability to think and learn on their own.
I get to teach science to middle-schoolers, which is an amazing job to have!
I have a few students who work hard just because they know I care for them and want them to succeed.
Even those giving me a hard time will come around at some point.
I work with teachers who will help me become a better teacher.
I know I said it already, but I have amazing students.
Wow, I am glad I wrote those out instead of just thinking them. I feel so much better. Thankfulness does change you! Can you do the same? Write out a list of what you are thankful for in your classroom and with your students. You don’t have to do it here, but you can if you would like!
Let gratitude change your attitude.
I know that sounds cheesy, but it does work! 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving, Teacher! If you aren’t from the US…Happy Thursday!
You are amazing! You are awesome! You are getting through to your students. Don’t give up! Keep on teaching, Teacher!