Wonderland Kansas City

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 17 2012

“Don’t take it personally.”

I think this is great advice for teachers, especially those working in the lower grades. You know, kids say the darndest things, right? But, of course, it’s easier said than done. And something I’ve been struggling with lately in my internship.

By far the worst day so far was on Tuesday (coincidentally, Valentine’s day). I have a boy in two of my classes who is one of the biggest behavior problems at our school. In a lot of ways, he’s a teacher’s worst nightmare. A lot of this comes from problems at home and self-esteem issues. Which means that behind the facade, he really is a great kid, and has the potential to shine. But he is constantly bringing himself down.

Like I said, I work with him twice every day, and because my cooperating teacher and I usually divide the work, I usually end up working with him and some of the other students with similar issues in smaller groups. I try to give him tons of attention and positive support. Which is why Tuesday was an awful day when he and I had our first real altercation.

We had an assembly at the end of the school day. During our hour of class, this kid was great–for the most part he stayed on task, respected other students, contributed to discussions, etc. As we lined up the kids–in a very specific order–I mentioned to my teacher, “man, P has been GREAT today!” and we were both very pleased. As we walked to the gym he was really on his best behavior, and before we sat down I turned to him and said, “P, you’ve been awesome” trying to sound as sincere as I could. I really appreciated the effort he was making, and trust me, for this kid, it’s an effort.

Unfortunately he got a little derailed at the assembly, since it was just a huge mess of kids and his friends were all around him. As we got back in line to go back to the classroom, I had to separate him from a group of other boys (his friends). He was pulling at their clothes, pretending to punch them, stomping on their feet, etc. Granted, it was his way of playing around and being a boy. But after repeating his name over and over it became clear that he was ignoring me as I tried to get him on task (and he was distracting the other boys from doing what they should have been doing). Eventually I sort of nudged him on the shoulder and upper back, trying to get him to turn around and get in line with the rest of the students.

“EW! WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME?!” was his response, and he jumped away. Not sure how to respond–and not wanting to get into any sort of altercation with this kid–I just responded sternly, “You need to get in line. Right now. What are you doing?”

Unfortunately for him, my cooperating teacher overheard his disrespectful remark (it really was disrespectful) and darted right over to him, and proceeded to chew him out like I’ve never seen anyone chew this kid out before. He got super upset, and defensive, and refused to apologize. She proceeded to pull him aside and chew him out some more. When we all got back to the classroom, she praised the kids for their great behavior, but reminded them–quite sternly–on how they should be respectful of all adults in the school. As the kids left the classroom I could hear him tell a group of other students that he had “gotten yelled at” “because she touched me.”

The problem was, at the end of the day, I felt bad. As I got into my car, I was in tears. I took it personally. Mostly because I had built up such a rapport with this kid (or at least thought I had) and I was sure that it was all gone. In my mind, I knew it wasn’t a personal thing at all, but in my heart I just wanted everything to be okay between this kid and me when we got into our book groups tomorrow. Would I have to rebuild all that trust?

Sure enough, the next day (yesterday) I had to remind my small group that “I am a teacher and I’m allowed to tell you what to do. I’m telling you it’s okay.” They were trying to argue with me that they shouldn’t start reading their books yet, since my cooperating teacher told them to work on their pre-reading activity today. Well, they finished their pre-reading activity pretty quickly, and when I asked them to start reading, they just wouldn’t have it. P warned the other kids “Yeah, she can be mean!” and even had the nerve to go get my cooperating teacher and ask her “are we supposed to start reading yet? you said not to, right?” and of course her answer was “if Ms. L said to start reading, then what do you think you should be doing?” After that, though, I was able to get him on task, and it was more or less smooth sailing.

Then, today, P had the best day ever. He was attentive for the entire social studies block, and was thoroughly engaged. He even took notes on the video we watched! He didn’t have to, but he asked to! I think he was positively rewarded for taking notes in science class, and wanted to do it again in our class to impress everyone. Whatever works, right? He was so excited about his notes that he wanted to share them with the whole class, so I put them on the document projector while the class played a review game, telling the other kids that they could use P’s notes to help them out as they reviewed. He was beaming. When class ended, I pulled him aside, and handed him a raffle ticket (the rewards system we use in our class–5 tickets = candy!) saying “P, you worked so hard today. Keep it up. I was so impressed. And don’t forget to take your notes when you leave!” He’s the kind of kid who usually acts “too cool” for teacher praise, but I saw him put the ticket carefully into his pencil case and he left the class in a great mood.

And you know what? I took it personally.

One Response

  1. I almost always take it personally, despite efforts to the contrary.

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