Be Firm and Be a Friend: How to Handle Those Difficult Students

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? 

Read Alongs Here to Save Sanity During Christmas Break #TeacherMom

Raise your hand if your kids ask to watch movies all day every day during holidays? Raise your hand if it has your sanity hanging by a thread within a few minutes?

via GIPHY

Enter read alongs! We already had a couple of these from CD’s included in picture books, but I decided to explore the audiobook section of our library as well to see whether my kids might enjoy them.

Parent win! Besides the blessed decrease in movie-begging, I have observed some unlooked-for benefits:

  • Opportunities to cooperate as they share the books while they listen
  • Opportunities for my older child to encourage print awareness with her brother
  • Discussions on expressions and vocabulary with my daughter as she repeatedly listens to Kate DiCamillo’s humorous “Bink & Gollie Two For One” (ie, “there are no winners here,” or “without question”)
  • Increase in our reading time as we can listen to stories while we eat meals
  • Impromptu dance parties (courtesy of the baby thoroughly enjoying the music that plays in the background of many of the books)

If any of these sound appealing, fire up some audiobooks today! In addition to checking out your local library, be sure to browse these free online options:

Storyline Online: High-quality read-alouds, often read by actors and actresses. I especially love that this one includes an app — makes it easier for me to play books over Bluetooth speakers so we don’t need to worry about huddling around a screen.

The Indianapolis Public Library Ready to Read CompilationThese books are well-laid out visually for you to browse and click, taking you to a Youtube video read aloud. There’s some overlap with the books available on Storyline, but there’s still a great selection of old favorites along with some great newer reads!

Just Books Read Aloud: This one has the largest selection of the three at over 700 choices, though you will notice that the quality of the read alouds tends to be lower. But if a child finds a treasured book, I doubt he/she will mind!

What audiobooks or sources have you found and enjoyed?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Jumping In Too Fast #TeacherMom

My 3 year-old asked to play a round of “Go Fish.” Apart from his tendency to ask if I have any sharks every time — whether he has any sharks himself or not — he has gotten the general idea of the game by this point.

As we started to acquire matching sets, I deliberately modeled 1 to 1 correspondence as I counted out my sets (ie, “Onnnnnnnnne” [while laying out the first card], “Twwwwwwwooo” [while laying out the second], etc).

And with probably excessive satisfaction, I watched as he reciprocated 1-1 counting with his own sets.

While starting to count one of his subsequent sets, I noticed that he missed the correspondence of naming “One” while simultaneously laying out the first card. And of course, as 1 to 1 correspondence requires us to understand that we can only count one number per object, I was ready to jump in to supply correction.

But, in that brief moment, sensing he was still working things out, I decided to bite my tongue and hold back. And I observed his quiet thinking: “Oh…wait, no…Onnnne” [while firmly laying out that first card again].

He’s already recognizing 1-1 correspondence for himself, thank you very much!

And I realized that I almost missed the whole thing with premature intervention — and more importantly, that he almost missed the opportunity to let his thinking catch up with his hands.

Sometimes, we just need time. I am reminded of this by the many teachers in my PLN who are choosing to slow down as they start the school year, allowing their students to settle into all the new routines, absorb all the new concepts, and build all the new relationships.

It seems to me that when we are too hasty with our learners, we’re often making it less about their learning and more about our fears (falling behind, failing to preempt problems, etc).

Most importantly, making a shift from hurried problem-solving toward reflective observing/questioning, we leave much room for inquiry, curiosity, and quiet thinking.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

So Apparently Even Babies Get Supply/Demand #TeacherMom

Supply and demand. Anyone who took basic high school economics probably recalls this handy chart:

My highly scientific representation of supply/demand

What I didn’t realize was that apparently, babies are also in-the-know. At least when it comes to mealtime in the highchair:

Yeah, that’s totally a smirk as he feeds the dog.

See, here’s what happens. Even if I know he’s hungry and even if it’s food I know he loves, when I load up his tray with large quantities of said food, it promptly lands on the floor or (more frequently) the dog’s belly.

↑ supply, ↓ demand

But when I give him just a few manageable pieces at a time, he usually eats every bit himself, even with a begging pup at his side.

↓ supply, ↑ demand

The more I’ve observed this fascinating phenomenon, the more I’ve wondered about its application to (where else?) the classroom.

  • Do I ever “load up” my students so much that they shut down (too many instructions, information, etc. at once)?
  • When I’m trying to get through a large amount of material and overload my students, is it still about the learning? With the supply/demand principles, does it even end up as efficient as I’d hoped?
  • When does overload actually work, and how does it differ from the above scenario (immersion, etc)?

My not-even-one-year-old baby seems to grasp that he should give a scarce supply greater attention — and I’m pretty sure it’s because he’s onto the fact that the scarcity is because I’m giving him greater attention as I sit close, notice, and adjust to his needs over the course of meal time. And if my baby is onto me, I’m pretty sure my students usually are, too.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Ownership Can Get Rid of “I Suck at…”

Think having students self-grade and reflect is fluff?

Think again.

Over the course of a 15 year study, John Hattie analyzed over 800 meta-studies to identify effects that have the strongest impact on learning (and he is constantly updating this list through continued studies). Self reported grades is almost at the top of the list of over 150 effects.

It beat out motivation. It beat out home environment. It even beat out “decreasing disruptive behavior.”

The truth is, students know a lot more about their own learning process than we so often give them credit for.

Which brings me to the issue at hand: When a student claims he/she “sucks at ___.”

When I hear that claim, I hear a student that has become convinced that their personal rate of learning is inferior to classmates. That because their progress has not looked identical to their peers, it must mean they are defective. That their learning is fixed, hopeless, and beyond theirs or anyone else’s reach.

Now, discouragement is normal for all learners from time to time. But when said discouragement is also rooted in learning that feels irrelevant or imposed, we’ve got problems.

Enter student ownership.

Any time we empower students with tools to take their learning in their own hands, we are giving them ownership.

Self-assessments are one such powerful tool.

Michael BondClegg recently wrote about giving students the opportunity to write their own report card comments, encouraging teachers to help students identify “ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth” and “plans for improving.”

This may seem trivial, but really, it turns the whole “I suck at” model on its head.

When a teacher fills out the comments, it perpetuates the whole “this is out of my hands” notion.

When a student is encouraged to fill out those comments in this way, it places the learning back in the students’ hands.

A student in diagnostics mode is student on her way toward a stronger growth mindset.

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation Into “Outside the Box” Thinking

This week’s provocation that, at face value, may seem a little more abstract, but that has a wide range of applications. You might be beginning a unit about inventors, or perhaps one on algebra, or maybe even some creative writing. Whatever the case, there is power in beginning a unit in a way that is a little less obvious, and a little more mysterious. The intrigue not only helps to hook our students’ interest, but it provokes deeper questions. This in turn leads them to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance, meaning, and universality (at least, more than the compartmentalized memorize-and-forget content they might otherwise prioritize).

So with this introduction, I share two resources on thinking outside the box!

#1: “Unexpected Outcome” Video series by  Daihei Shibata

For a compilation of additional videos and photos, visit The Kid Should See This.

#2: “1+1=5” Picture Book by David LaRochelle

My 7 year old was absolutely delighted with all the possibilities, and loved predicting them based on the pictures before turning the page.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to “think outside the box?”
  • What does “thinking outside the box” have to do with perspective?
  • How does thinking about the world in unexpected ways help us as learners?
  • What is the value of perspective to our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to think outside the box?
  • What are ways “outside the box” thinking has helped the world change and grow?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Investment in Book Love: Reframing My Perspective #TeacherMom

Ahhh, book love. There’s nothing quite like watching my kids wade through stacks and stacks of books.

With 3 tiny humans in the house, I’ve long-since determined that all the frayed corners, torn pages, and disheveled shelves are simply signs of love and affection. Plus, I figured that, given that any attempts at order look a LOT like the meme below, what was the point?

I also firmly believe that to teach responsibility, we can’t be constantly cleaning up after/solving problems for our kids — if they want to be able to find all their books and keep them in good shape, they need to learn to take care of them, right?

But recently, all of this was set aside with a bout of spring cleaning which extended to sprucing up the books.

We sorted them by size…

…authors…

…and collections.

 

I knew it likely wouldn’t last, but it still felt nice to have them organized.

To my delight, I discovered an unexpected outcome after nap time/school. Though I didn’t add a single new book during this clean-up process, it was as if my kids were seeing them all anew. They spent the rest of the day exclaiming over books they thought were lost and enjoying entire collections or author groups.

Though I know details like right-side-up and spine out will still fall mostly to me, this experience has shown me that I can view my time spent here with a fresh perspective.

Until the day comes that my kids can fully exercise fine motor and organizational skills, shaping their reading environment is an investment on my part.

Meanwhile, I can still teach them responsible book care within their abilities — it does not need to be an all-or-nothing kind of approach. But if I get a new idea to present their books in a way that will spark renewed interest and book love, nothing should get in the way of that.

After all, if “doing for them what they cannot do for themselves” doesn’t extend to fostering deeper love of reading, what does?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto