There are kids who challenge us.
Kids who are confused.
There are kids who are dealing with more than a kid should be dealing with.
There are kids who are angry.
Kids who seek attention in a wide variety of inappropriate ways.
There are kids who bully and are mean to others.
There are kids who are insecure.
Kids who seem to have the innate ability to drive us crazy.
There are kids who are, well, just kids. They are immature and they show it.
But, there are no “bad” kids.
This week, I ran across a quote on the Edutopia Instagram feed that was cause for pause and reflection.
I had a student who was late to class come up to me afterward. “I’m sorry I was late,” he said. “My mom died this morning and I didn’t know where to go, so I came here.” That was the day I decided to treat every single student as if I have no idea what they were going through. – Heather Thompson Day, Educator
Wow. That is a powerful statement. I have actually seen this on several occasions in my teaching and administrative career. Kids coming to school after the death of a parent, or close relative, because…well…they had nowhere else to go. For these kids, school is a place of safety and stability that they may not have at home.
The goal of every educator should be to love and care for all of their students. The truth is that there are kids who make this incredibly difficult. Students who are mean to others, seek attention in disruptive ways, project anger, and those who go out of their way to “push buttons” and foster resentment. However, these are the kids who likely need us the most.
Around here, we extend grace to the kids who give us gray hair. – Adama Sallu, Director of Equity
So what strategies can educators use to reach those challenging students who appear to relentlessly focused on making our teaching lives miserable? Here are a few suggestions.
- Meet students where they are. It is important to recognize that students typically “bring the best they know” to school with them. If we make immediate judgements about their behaviors (or the “type” of kid they are) we are going to miss out on opportunities to build positive relationships and effectively teach socially appropriate behavior and academic content. Begin where the student is and then foster and celebrate growth.
- Focus on understanding, instead of controlling, student behavior. As the quote from Heather Thompson Day indicates, we rarely have a clear understanding of everything a student might be dealing with outside of school. Take the time to get to know kids and give them opportunities to share their perspective. When students act out, work to identify the root cause instead of being focused solely on squashing the behavior. A need to “control” everything will inevitably be counterproductive to making students feel safe and establishing a healthy learning environment.
- Be persistently present. Don’t take student behavior personally. Misbehavior is rarely about you. Students are going to make mistakes. They are going to mess up and misbehave. Make it clear to them that you are with them for the long haul. We all need the opportunities for second (third…fourth…fifth…) chances and fresh starts. Make every day a new day — for you, and for your students.
- Be persistently patient. There is a reason that most people will look at you with a strange mix of empathy, concern, and disbelief when you tell them you work with adolescents. This is an age where “normal” kids learn to push buttons and create havoc. Throw in some trauma, family issues, academic struggles, or any number of other factors and you have a recipe for behavior that will cause the best of us to pull our hair out. So, know it is coming. Be calm. Breathe. Be patient.
- Pick your battles. Recognize that there are some things that students do that might annoy us, but they simply aren’t worth our effort, or time, to address. As previously mentioned, we don’t have to “control” everything. As difficult as it seems, pause and ask yourself if an issue is something that needs to be addressed now, later, or never.
- Recognize your biases (yes…you have them…we all do). We live in a diverse society and in all likelihood, most of our students have not had the same school and life experiences we have had. That does not mean their experiences are any less valuable, or valid. Just because it was “this way for me” doesn’t mean that we should necessarily expect the same from our students. When a student does something that bothers you, try to see it from the perspective of the kid and ask yourself if it’s possible that your reaction is the result of a personal bias.
- Model and teach what you would like to see. One of the most important things that we can do for our students — especially those who present behavioral challenges — is model and teach socially appropriate behavior. Don’t assume that students know what to do. Take the time to get student perspectives on what makes them feel safe and comfortable in the classroom (and at school) and then work together to build and develop that environment.
None of this is easy. There are definitely kids who will give you a “run from your money” when it comes to disconcerting behaviors and classroom management. However, keep in mind that kids can be a lot of things and many need a lot of support, but my contention is that there are no “bad” kids.
You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear. – Father Gregory Boyle