The truly rewarding days are the ones when you feel like you’ve actually made a difference in a child’s life. I have a student who enjoys getting in trouble, plain and simple. Her words, not mine. Countless times, countless teachers explain to her that the older she gets, the less “fun” getting in trouble will be…
I’m going to assume that some pretty heavy 6th grade drama was cooking in a big ol’ crock pot… Last week, the student asked to sit with me during her independent work instead of with her friends. She sat with me the whole period, and diligently attended to her work. No spelling mistakes. Perfect punctuation. Textual evidence gallore. I was delighted by her ability and even adamantly expressed my amazement. When she finished, we had a really nice talk. She told me about some of her hopes and dreams, none of which consisted of getting in trouble for personal amusement. We talked about how to achieve goals in life, which starts by being a good student, and trying your best. The child asked me if a person needs to go to college in order to become “rich” some day. I responded with the truth, my truth. One that I believe with all my heart and soul.
“To be happy is to be rich,” I told her.
I expected a snicker or an eye roll, but she smiled and nodded. I can’t express the fullness that I felt in my heart at that moment. I was so glad that she was starting to see the connection between education and her definition of success. She told me she was going to try harder, that she was going to give her teachers and peers an easier time. Without my prompting, she even stuck out her little pinky and promised to produce her very best work.
I left the school that day and called my mom almost in tears. “I DID IT!” I screamed. “I fulfilled my mission in life.” I told her the whole story, sweet tears of joy streaming down my face. (I tend to be really emotional, you’ll start to notice this more and more.)
My mom, or should I say “Negative Nancy,” (just kidding, Ma) told me that while one chat with a chronically difficult child could potentially be a great start to progress, chances are… the conversation went in one of her ears and out the other.
“I hope you’re the one to get through to her, but she’ll likely need many, many, many more of these little chats throughout the year, Gwen.”
I disagreed. In that moment I truly believed that I was her sole inspiration, the one to influence what would become a huge change in her behavior. I told my boyfriend the story, too. He was so proud of me. Yes, I am literally as corny as I sound. I fell asleep with a smile on my face that night and literally couldn’t wait to go back to work. I was so eager to see my colleagues the following week to discuss what I would have sworn was an unbelievable transformation in the works.
My mom warned me. I don’t know why I was so shocked to find that her behavior had only gotten progressively worse. She didn’t turn in any assignments for the week, got kicked out of three classes, screamed at nearly every single one of her teachers; and even threw a stack of heavy books at one of them.
They don’t teach you about this in teacher-ed either. Sure, we all anticipate having difficult students, especially when teaching in urban, maybe even lower-income areas. We’ve seen it in real life, we’ve seen it on TV, we’ve been thoroughly warned. I don’t think there is a teacher alive that doesn’t foresee being disrespected at some point, probably even many points, throughout a career as a secondary educator. But they don’t teach us what to do when you’re the only adult in the school that takes a liking to such an immensely difficult child.
I believe in her and I wish I knew why. I have zero tolerance for bullying. ZERO and I mean that. Without an intervention, such a child could potentially turn into a bully, a really mean one too. Even without an ounce, or single shred of respect for authority, I care about her. I’m really rooting for her because I know that deep down, she has a good heart.
I’m not a guidance counselor and I’m not a therapist. I’m not even the lead teacher in the room. Fact is, there’s not much that I can do for her. I can only be in her corner, for now. I want to do something for her, though. There has to be a way to show her that this is no way to behave; a way to show her that her education is important; that being nice to others is a necessary life-skill. Maybe its that “new teacher bug,” but I refuse to accept that this beautiful child is a lost cause. Suggestions from fellow teachers are welcome and appreciated. :-*