Finding the Good

Sometimes, I’m astounded by my ability to judge and be biased.  I suppose recognizing the problem is the first step.  I always look forward to the beginning of a new school year as a time of blank slates.  I try to withhold judgment.  I remind myself that when a child is acting up, there is probably a deeper reason behind it.  It’s not a matter of making excuses.  It’s a matter of finding the good.  Finding the better points of that child and harnessing them, if you will.  Here’s an example.

In my 7th period class, there are a couple boys that some of my co-workers are already complaining about.  They’re goofs.  They are attention hogs.  They are frequently caught not paying attention.  Today, we were playing a game to get to know each others’ names and they were constantly butting in, providing answers to other students before they had a chance to answer.  They were also a little mouthy, in a very goofy, jocular way.  Half the class was laughing at them, the other half was intimidated.  Regardless, they were a distraction and out of line and needed to be dealt with.

As the class filed out, I pulled each of them aside and told them to go wait by my desk.  I came in to three very cowed, nervous looking boys.  I know at least one of them already had another teacher threaten to call home.  I sat down and asked them why they were asked to stay behind.  One of them answered “to get in trouble.”  Which is how I know what I said next probably came as a complete surprise.  Instead of tearing them a new one or threatening them with detentions or calls home, I straightforwardly told it to them exactly like I saw it.  It’s something I think we as adults often forget to do with kids(I know I’m guilty of it).

I let them know that I had been observing them and that I expected huge things of them.  I said that I loved their goofy senses of humor and I appreciated their cheerful outlooks on everything.  I said that those could all be really great characteristics.  I told them that I looked forward to some really great moments with them in the coming year.  And then I told them that while all those personality traits can be really fun, they can also be really distracting.  I told them that we would be working together to find the line between fun and distracting.  But we would find it.  Then I gave them the evil teacher eye, told them to be more behaved tomorrow and shooed them out, saying tomorrow is a new day with a clean slate.  I even got a “sorry ma’am.”  I know they will be my performers.  When I need a scene acted out from a book or when I want someone to do a presentation, they’re going to be my go to guys.  We just have to work on learning when it appropriate and when is not.

I don’t want you to think my shit don’t stink.  The only reason I was able to have that conversation with those boys was because earlier in the day, I had a run in with another kid that I felt I handled very poorly.  For all my posturing and grandiose words about no judgments at the beginning of the school year, I was exceptionally hard on a student who really just probably needs some attention and care.  He’s in my home room, and during the tour of the school he began to wear on me because it seemed every time I turned around he was doing the exact thing I’d just told them not to do- going into a teacher’s room who wasn’t around.  Climbing the rope in the gym.  Zipping down the hall because he “KNOW[S] EXACTLY WHERE THE NEXT ROOM IS, MRS. COOKIE!!!!!!!”  My patience was wearing exceptionally thin.  It was not helped by the fact that he would.not.stop.talking.  He demanded that everyone call him “Dragon” (no joke) and would get really cranky when anyone dared to use his real name.  Finally, I had him come sit up at the front of the classroom.  He just could not control himself.  I am the adult, I could.  But instead I chewed him out a little.  I just wanted him to be quiet and he kept trying to talk to me!  I was absorbed in the current task (collecting forms) and couldn’t be bothered.  When it was finally his turn to pass in his forms, this suddenly tiny little boy came to me and handed them over.  With shame and pain in his eyes, he handed me a form and said “I hope it was okay I put my stepdad’s name on this one.  I don’t know my dad.  He left when I was a baby and we don’t know where he is.”  Maybe his stepdad is a great guy.  A lot of them are.  But it was so clear to me in that instant that regardless of whatever attention he might be getting, he so wanted the attention of the one person who would not give it to him.  Perhaps this explained the constant need for attention?  I don’t know, but I do know that I’m going to strive to have more patience with him.

I love the beginning of the year.

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