Bad teacher for one

I wanted to post this week about my struggle to find a way to help my second graders learn to revise. I want them to see that a writer goes back to a “finished” piece and adds new understanding or makes a sentence more clear for the reader, or even takes out a part that doesn’t serve the purpose. It’s not an easy concept.

I was also thinking of writing about my search for a way to make my Readers’ Workshop function for all of my students: my two newcomers who have little or no English, my two boys who are reading at a Kindergarten level, my two girls who are slowly moving toward grade level reading, my group who tested at grade level before I came to the school but who show serious lapses in comprehension, and my group that is ready to soar ahead and enter Literature Circles. I’m working on strategies that allow each cohort to work at their own level, and a schedule that gives me the time to push all of them.

But, neither of those were my focus this week. This week was all about finding a way to teach through behavior problems. I have been practicing deep breathing and pausing before I speak so I don’t yell at the children. It’s so hard not to yell. (And, of course I have yelled.) It’s one thing for a student to refuse to do his own work, quite another when he makes it difficult for others to do theirs.

This week, in our classroom, students have stolen items from me and from classmates, students have torn papers and broken pencils, students have wandered aimlessly around the classroom making incredibly distracting noises.

A little while before lunch Friday, the Vice Principal stopped by my class to check in with a student that we had been working together to help. She had already seen him that morning, when he had assured her he would turn his day around, and I appreciate her taking the time to visit. In a lucky coincidence, I had just had to set the class to 10 minutes of quiet reading at their desks so I could deal with this student. He had recently returned from a visit to our Buddy Classroom for a time out, but returned immediately to the same behaviors – refusing to do any work, pushing other students, making noises when they were trying to talk or listen, taking things away from a student and leaving them on the other side of the room. When the VP asked him to walk with her to the hallway to talk, he refused. I took the opportunity to have a one-to-one with another student about his stealing and fighting, knowing everyone else would be on good behavior with the VP in the room, so I could turn my back on them.

The VP was still with the misbehaving students when I organized the class for lunch. I walked them all to the cafeteria and the two were still in my classroom when I got back. I left to have lunch with my colleagues.  Eventually, the school counselor got him to the office and I was told Mom would come to pick him up. She never did.

At the end of the day, there was my student, down from the office to get his things for the bus. I got his papers from his mailbox, including a brand new set of the week’s homework with a note saying he had not turned any of it in, and I watched him put it in his backpack. He made a few rude gestures, and meandered to his bus group. I have little hope those papers will reach home. I got my students to their buses before heading back to my classroom to cry.

The other 20 students in my class should not have to struggle to learn through his ridiculous behavior.

Full disclosure: I am incredibly worried about my own daughter. She is having a rough time and has given me a lot to worry about. While I was sitting down to lunch that day, I heard the voice mail from her school nurse – an hour old –  saying she had been to the office twice and was not feeling well. By the time I was able to get a hold of my husband and the nurse, my girl was put on the bus. Had I not been dealing with that student, I would have gotten my own daughter taken care of. So, yes, I’m more than a little resentful.

I know that this boy has had difficulty in his life. I know his mother is lost and, even with good intentions, just doesn’t know what to do. Like all of us, she has made mistakes as a parent. I empathize with her. But. I’m also angry with her. Her son needs more and she needs to get it for him. I am not a behavior specialist. I do not know how to fix what is wrong here. Given an hour with him alone, with no one to show off to, no one to impress, I could teach him. Because that IS what I am, a teacher. But I can’t be his mother, his father, his counselor.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t save this kid. All I can do is make the room a place of learning. If he shows signs he’s willing to try, I’ll leap and bring him in. But, until then, I focus on everyone else. I’d rather be a bad teacher for this one, than a bad teacher for all 21.

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