I have a student, Jay, who has been a perpetual thorn in my side all year. He’s pretty bright, but makes it a point to not do his work. This in itself is obviously a concern, but his behavior is also a problem. There have been times when the principal and assistant principal have been in the room to talk to the class about something, and he just goes on as if he’s the only one who matters. Their obvious anger with him doesn’t seem to bother him. His mother was also just in on Monday.
On Thursdays I have an eighth period prep, and with the way our school’s extended day is structured, I sometimes don’t have any kids then either (shh…don’t tell Joel and Mikey!) Thus I have a good chunk of uninterrupted time where I can work in the relative peace and quiet of my room, something I don’t get too often. But today, I was so angry with several of them, including Jay, that I didn’t let them go to their last period tech class, which they love. And since detention, or punishment, or whatever the hell it’s called, sometimes turns into a free-for-all, I gave them a “reflective essay” to write. Very New-Age of me, don’t you think? I should buy a Yanni CD to play during writing time.
This is what Jay wrote
The reason why I do not do my work is because I do not have a lot of self esteem and I know I can do my work but I chose not to. Another reason is because I don’t know why I don’t pay attention it is not because I am mentally slow or anything. It’s just some teachers don’t give me enough credit.
Another kid, DJ, wrote:
The things that make me act up in my life is I’m hardly around my father. I live with my mom only 2 days each weekend and I can’t keep still. It’s hard for me to control myself…I don’t know when it’s time to stop playing, I’ve been like this since I was in 2nd grade and I am still like this I just can’t help myself.
Jay and I talked for a few minutes; all the kids who were there talked about what they’d written. It makes me feel bad that so many of them have such difficult situations in their lives that they don’t want to discuss. I never press things but it really does explain a lot. Those kids, who’d made me see red just a few minutes before, had me feeling a lot of empathy for them. Most of us who work in city schools regularly ruminate about the problems these kids have in their lives, which are often brought in to the classroom, but, for me anyway, it’s easy to let that awareness fall to the side. Especially when the word of the day, every day, is “test.” Or, really, “test test test test test test.”
I don’t, for one second, suggest letting them slide when they do wrong, but I think talking with them more regularly in a “risk free environment” (gag) might help. I’ve been all but banging my head against cinderblocks, trying to think of ways to get them to behave. I call parents, lecture them, request conferences, do lunch detention, take away the few-and-far-between fun things that come up, to no avail. Today felt like the first time I made any headway with a couple of them.
Naturally, I was feeling especially good about the progress I made with Jay, which means that he inevitably left the room with the rest of the class and pushed another kid down the stairs. Now I think I see him more as a master manipulator, because he did have me feeling badly for him and guilty that I hadn't tried the kinder, gentler thing earlier in the year. From all smiles to assault in just a matter of minutes.