Teaching often involves watching, observing, asking questions, withholding our judgement. It involves learning everything you can about your students so you can find the words to help. It's avoiding your knee-jerk response to perceived bad behavior and finding out more about the realities of your students.
My OSU student interns have a strong research, academic, and pedagogical foundation, and their semester of internship allows them to teach 'for real,' without much of a net.
They learn to use their interpersonal skills, to inhibit their first responses and find other professionals who can help them learn more about these fragile students who try to appear so tough.
The stories I share today are young teachers using their gifts and talents and knowledge, getting to the bottom of troublesome behavior, seeking to understand their students' lives and finding ways to make school meaningful. I am so proud of these young teachers. Even if they choose not to teach, their semester in the classroom has given them even more empathy for others.
My student story is about a kid named T. He is a “bad kid” according to almost all the other teachers (my CT is exempt). He rarely comes to class, recently knocked-up his girlfriend, and is a general troublemaker. He is disrespectful, has great contempt of authority, and will challenge teachers. He likes to push back.
I had him in class one day and was frustrated within the first five minutes. I tried to laugh off his disrespect, but deep down I really wanted to call him out. Instead, I kept my cool until I could talk to my cooperating teacher. I told her about T and asked what she would do with him. She told me that his dad had recently been sentenced to prison for trying to kill his mother in front of him. Now, his mother wants nothing to do with him or any of his brothers. She has all but abandoned them.
To keep the boys together, community members have been letting them sleep on couches. She never knows for sure where T is at any given point. He feels ashamed of handouts so he won’t eat with the family he stays with. He often doesn’t eat at school. She said she had to force him to eat because he would be afraid of being called a bum.
T works so hard to stay afloat that he sometimes doesn’t realize he’s being disrespectful. He thinks that the teachers don’t understand him (and for the most part, he’s right) and so he won’t try.
I pulled him out of class later that day and asked him how he was doing. I told him he wasn’t in trouble, just that I wanted to talk. He gave me a short list of his goings-on and started to open up a little.
I then used “I” statements to discuss his behavior. He instantly became the sweetest kid in his class. If I could, I would adopt all three of those boys and make sure that they are cared for. I still feel anger at the other teachers in my building for not caring for T and his family, but I’m glad I can help him in any way.
I do not know how to start this written assignment, so I suppose I will just begin rambling. I have a student, EL, that is unmotivated at all times to do her work. She is a brilliant student, but she does not like feeling the pressure of working during class. To put this into perspective: while alone in the classroom, she finished a unit’s worth of assignments in about an hour. She is fully capable of doing the work, and doing it well, but she simply does not want to. She calls herself “stupid” regularly, and it breaks my heart.
After a while of this, my cooperating teacher and I decided to go to her counselor and find out if there is any background to her behavior. She is rarely disrespectful. She is just uninterested. We learned that her parents are currently going through a divorce. This put everything into perspective for us. It is so hard to ask he to work on English assignments when her home life is a complete mess. I fully understand that The Crucible is not relevant to her real life; however, she does need to graduate high school, so we hold her to a new standard.
EL is no longer allowed to take her work home with her. She always loses it, so there is no point in asking her to work on things at home anyways. We ask her to stay after class once a week and get all of her assignments done. She is only allowed, per our policy, to make an 80% on these late assignments, but an 80% is much better than a 0.
We are now working with her schedule in a way that does not pressure her, or make her feel that we think English is more important than her home life or her mental health.