It was cold and blustery outside, one of those days you just wanted to stay under the covers. But it was only hump day and I had a busy schedule, so I dragged myself out of bed, had my cup of coffee and a piece of toast, jumped into my car and was on my way. I arrived at school and everything was going smoothly, in fact, I was having a pretty good morning. Had a parent conference during my break, so I barely had time to ready myself for my dreaded third period class.
Today, was just as expected…. I waited at the door to greet each of my 6th graders with a high five or pat on the back, as I do everyday just to see where they’re at. Joshua was very upset, I knew I’d have to spend some time talking to him during study hall, Alyssa, whose parents just got divorced was almost in tears as she walked into my room, then there was Rachel who was abused by an uncle, Mark came in next, he was the class bully who threatened kids at lunch for extra change, Ian was a quiet, studious boy, who got picked on for being a good student, Tiffany, Mercedes and Cheyenne were next, my three chatterboxes, and I can’t forget Isaac who had a great sense of humor, but couldn’t keep quiet, the list goes on. You’ve probably had a class like this yourself.
As teachers, we’re supposed to teach kids who have so much baggage, that learning comes second.
We began class with a short group meeting, so that hopefully, they’d be able to settle down, to our social studies lesson on ancient Egypt. We were going to write notes to each other in hieroglyphics. You’d think that would be a fun and engaging lesson for them, NOT!!!! They were loud, fidgety and just not able to settle down.
I’d been doing some soul searching, trying to figure out how to best meet the needs of this class. Being a veteran teacher, this should have been easy, but it wasn’t. I knew I had to do something because we couldn’t continue like this for the rest of the year. I decided to meet these challenges head on. Here are some of the ideas I came up with…..aaand they worked!!! I’d like to share them with you.
- Keep your students in class. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking they disrupt the rest of the kids, how are they supposed to learn? Right!!! I felt the same way! How many times can you send the child to the office? My partner and I would put a disruptive student into each other’s class, but they would miss sooo much, it just wasn’t worth it. We had to come up with something else. We realized that when you remove someone, they are getting the message, “I don’t belong here!” and they’ve probably felt this way most of their life. Even worse, you’re shutting down dialogue between you and your students, it sets off a vicious cycle. They return to class feeling out of it, they’ve missed instruction, are behind, and have to make up work. More than likely, they will act out even more.
- Let your kids know they’ve been heard, truly listen when they speak.Have you ever spilled your guts to someone, only to realize that they hadn’t a clue what you’d been saying? Well, it’s happened to me and I can tell you that it made me feel awful. Soooo, when you see one of your kiddos is visibly upset, find some time to talk, one on one to see what’s up. Reallly listen! Be open to what’s said, even if it’s something that makes you uncomfortable. You can help by leading them in the right direction without giving your opinion. If need be get in touch with support staff. Alyssa was unpredictable, one day she would come into class with a sparkle in her eye a bounce to her walk and ready to tackle anything that was put in front of her. But, she had a stubborn streak, she could be argumentative, loud, and unwilling to do her work. I began to view her obstinence as confidence in herself and realized she had great leadership qualities. I shared this with her and to my surprise, her eyes widened as she asked, “Do you really think so?” I told her I did and reiterated that she had great potential to lead others in a good way. She beamed from ear to ear, and I knew I had made a breakthrough. Not to say everything was perfect from then on, she still had her ups and downs, but we were headed in the right direction.
- Seek out your students’ strengths and build upon them. It would be horrible if some of our kids had no strengths at all, wouldn’t it? Buuut that’s just not true, even your most difficult child has good qualities and abilities. Part of our job is to find those talents and use them to our advantage and theirs. Though my third period class wasn’t made up of the brightest pebbles on the beach, they had many redeeming qualities. Jack had dyslexia, he received extra help, for the difficulties he was experiencing in reading, but he was a phenomenal artist. He helped me design bulletin boards and whenever we did a project that required artwork, you know who everyone depended on! Allison and Jacob were our techie go tos. There were other students who were compassionate, athletic, and musical….I’m sure you have many kids in your class with awesome abilities that need to be tapped. Once you do, you’ll see a decline in discipline problems.
- Come up with opportunities for your kids to acknowledge their potential and be recognized for their achievements. Many kids are aware of their capabilities, they just need us to give them a little encouragement. One way to do this is through growth mindset activities and posters placed strategically around the room to remind them to push themselves to the edge of what they believe they’re capable of. Let’s think about our troublemakers for a minute, remember Mark, the bully, who was often called out and reprimanded. Well, he loved building things, and he was great at it. One of our group projects was to build bricks out of mud and design a Sumerian Ziggurat, I put him in charge, and boy did he shine. He felt good about himself, maybe for the first time. Complaints about his bullying began to dwindle.
- Have parents become your ally. They want what’s best for their child and so do you, let them know that. Once you get them on your side, half the battle is won. They know their kids strengths, shortcomings, desires and struggles. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sit down and collaborate with them, you can find out so much just by talking. Stay in touch, let them know when their child has done something amazing, likewise, if you notice something is wrong, ask about it. Most will be more than willing to share.. Remember that kids have their own personality and sometimes we, as educators, only see part of it. We need parents to fill in the gaps.
These approaches are not the end all, but they are a beginning. By the end of the year, my dreaded third period class became one of my favorite groups of kids. True they were a challenge, and at times, I was ready to pull my hair out, but I didn’t give up, I guess my faith in kids kept me going. So, my best advice to you is take the challenge head on, you are the teacher, and you’re doing what you love, or else you wouldn’t be there. Take one day at a time, have faith in yourself and you can move mountains.
This post is part of our monthly Teacher Talk Blog Collaborative….Be sure to read what the rest of these wonderful educators have to say.