Difficult students … difficult teachers!?!
Two comments I heard recently prompted me to think again about writing this post.
The first came as a student returned to school following an extended absence. The student had missed the whole school testing we had agreed to do and the teachers were asked if they could make it a priority to give the student a chance to take the tests. One teacher immediately began a rampage about how this would mean another session of the curriculum the student would miss. I sat there listening and seriously had to bite my tongue. I’m not a fan of standardised testing but in this case the testing we were doing is useful to me as a classroom teacher. It would help me to determine where the gaps are for my students and let us all set learning goals. What I really wanted to say,though, was that as teachers our core business is students.
Let me say that again: As teachers our core business is STUDENTS … not curriculum.
If a student has already missed 10 sessions of the planned curriculum, is one more session really going to matter? If a student has already missed 10 sessions of the planned curriculum isn’t it more important to worry about how the student is going to feel trying to fit back in? Instead of worrying about the lessons missed, I would want to focus on making sure my student felt welcomed back to the classroom … I don’t always know why students have time off school … but I need to remind myself that children (even teenagers) are not always in control of that situation and I don’t want my classroom to be another place that just adds to their anxiety.
The second comment came out as part of a reported behaviour incident. The teacher admitted that they had been unable to see what had happened but ‘it was the sort of thing that student would do”. In reality it turned out to be an accident (witnessed by other students) but the student in question didn’t know how to report the damage without getting into trouble. I found myself thinking again about the levels of anxiety students feel in the classroom.
As a Sub-School Coordinator I once had a first year teacher come storming into my office, adamant that he was ‘not having that student back’ in his classroom. Her language and behaviour was inappropriate. She had consequences every time it happened … but progress was slow. When he finally calmed down he looked at me and said, “How many more chances should she get?” My answer, “As many as it takes!”
All of these comments typify the hole we can fall into as teachers … the one where we forget we are dealing with children. We can get so bogged down with administration, curriculum documentation, standardised testing, pressure for improved school performance, etc., that we really do forget the two essential truths of our profession.
We are dealing with children. They don’t think the same way we do, yet! They don’t control their emotions and behaviour like we do, yet!
We are the adults in the room. I am just as human as every other teacher and, yes, I can get really frustrated when I’m talking to the same student about the same inappropriate behaviour for the fifth time in one day … but I need to remember that I am the adult. I can think more broadly and problem solve, I can take into consideration that this kid has a lot to deal with, I can control my emotions.
The ultimate goal is to see our students become confident, competent, successful adults. Sometimes this means deviating from the lesson plan: In the big picture it doesn’t really matter if they don’t complete chapter 3 of the workbook, I’m sure they’ll survive adulthood with 20 fewer examples of homonyms! Sometimes this means giving them another chance, knowing they will fall off the wagon (use that inappropriate word again, throw something, …) but hopefully they will exercise just a little more control and last just that bit longer than last time.
We need to remember as we walk through our classroom door each day that we are the adults: We are the role models. Our words and our actions matter. We set the tone for the classroom environment and we play a big part in making school a place students want to be or want run from!