I have stepped into many different classrooms with countless students over the years. Each room of kids seems to follow a similar pattern. The students that just want to help, they do everything they can to be the favorite. Then there are the students who sit in the back, keep to themselves, and try not to draw any extra attention. The ones listening intently to every word, but maybe not saying much. There’s always the students lost in their own thoughts of Minecraft or Fortnite, and the students fidgeting with things in their desks. There are so many different kinds of students you will run into in any given classroom, but there is always one student you will find no matter what. The kid that pushes your buttons and limits as far as he or she possibly can.
I still remember the first encounter I had with one of these students, it was only a few years into my undergrad. I was in front of a fourth-grade class teaching a writing lesson, one of the very first full lessons I had ever taught. I was nervous as I stood in front of them, then took all of my excitement in me to exclaim, “Today we are going to do some fun writing!”
A few students tuned me out, I knew it. Others paid a little more attention. One student, sitting on the front row smack in the middle as if he was purposely placed there to torment me yelled out, “WRITING SUCKS!” and had the whole class laughing within seconds.
My little, tender, pre-teacher heart could not handle this. I choked back tears as I continued on with the lesson, ignoring his comment like I had been taught in my classroom management courses. “Class, who can tell me how many sentences make up a paragraph?”
“NONE BECAUSE WE DON’T WRITE ANYTHING FOR ANYONE.”
His words crushed my soul. I made it through the lesson without crying, but their teacher could tell I was struggling because she pulled me aside at recess and asked if I was okay. I told her I struggled with this particular student and his comments. She sat me down and explained how he was testing my limits, what he was allowed to get away with around me. She told me the most important thing was that I needed to be firm, but also, be a friend.
I took her advice and applied it the very next day. During the second part of my writing lesson, he thought it would be fun to hop onto his chair and dance for the class. I had to stand my ground and tell him that behavior was not appropriate in my classroom and that he would need to sit down.
He didn’t listen right away, it took days and days of me repeating my expectations, removing him from the classroom, and calling on other teachers to assist. But slowly, we made improvements, he saw where I stood and started respecting that. Once we had somewhat mutual respect for each other, the friendship started.
“Hey, Mrs. Ross, do you like football?”
I can still remember him asking me that question in the hallway after school one day because it was the first interaction we had that wasn’t a power struggle between us.
We proceeded to have a full discussion about football and he told me about his favorite college football team, BYU, and his favorite player, Taysom Hill. I asked questions and learned more about his passion for watching this game that I had never quite understood myself.
He and I would chat often about recent games or the latest news with the team and even broaden our conversations beyond football at times. He would ask me about the latest news with my dog we were trying to convince our landlord to let us keep. At home, I would ask my husband the latest news on BYU and brush up on the current events with Taysom. Once we started building a friendship, the respect towards each other grew even further.
This particular little boy was known throughout the school to be a tough student. Teachers in the hallways would try to reprimand him for bullying, running, and yelling to distract ongoing lessons, with no success. Eventually, I could give him one look, and he would know his behavior was not acceptable. Teachers throughout the school would ask me often what my secret was, how was I bribing him to behave?
The truth was, no bribery was needed. This little boy needed one thing. Friendship. His teacher was in tune with him and knew which is why she advised me to do two things. Be firm, and be his friend.
As I continued through my teaching career, I quickly found out that he wasn’t the only student like this that I would encounter. I met many other students who attempted to push my limits and nearly bring me to tears, but at the end of my time with them, they always ended up being one of my favorite students because I spent extra time building a relationship with them.
So next time you’re frustrated by that one student that always has a mean comment, or thinks it’s okay for her to crack inappropriate jokes during lessons, remember that it could be their cry for attention and love.
Find out what they are interested in and truly care about it too. Ask them questions about the games they play and the friends they have. I’ve learned about college football, famous YouTube stars, Fortnite, JoJo Siwa, and more. They are all topics that have never been on my radar and most likely would not have if I hadn’t talked with them for a minute. Dude Perfect turned out to be more interesting than I ever would have expected!
At first, they’ll push you away and resist any relationship, it’s their defense mechanism because deep down they know they cannot continue to be the class clown if they start respecting you. But keep trying, be persistent, and just truly care about them and each of your students.
I look back and think about these students often. I wonder how they are doing in school and genuinely hope that they have been passed along to other teachers that care about them as much as I do. I hope that they have someone to talk about BYU football and famous YouTube stars, because I know that’s the conversations they need to be having in order to learn about Shakespear and y=mx+b. I truly hope they are successful and that my short encounters with them made the smallest difference in their lives. In the end, that is the reason we are all teachers, right?