This is not a post that I find easy to write. Today was one of those rough days we sometimes have as educators when our students are dealing with emotions and situations we can't fix or have control over. As educators, many of us like to feel like we are in control or are at least able to help our students in as many ways as possible. Unfortunately, that is not always the case when our students face difficult home lives.
You know that student, the one that displays difficult behaviors when home life is far from ideal? The student who spends the week with dad, and then spends the weekends out of town with mom. The student who strongly, and I mean strongly, dislikes going to mom's on the weekend. The student who hears adult comments that are far beyond appropriate for their age. The student who hears yelling between dad and stepmom. The student who lacks structure at home or resources at home that make it a comfortable living environment. The student that does not have a consistent life, and thrives off of routine at school. The student that needs school and a positive teacher the most. The student that keeps you up at night trying to think of ways to help this student more in school and outside of the classroom. The student that may not show you they appreciate you, but probably love you the most out of all of your students. The student that makes teaching so rewarding.
I believe there should be no grudges in school. When students make mistakes, or show troubling behaviors, it should be a learning experience for both the student and teacher. Behaviors are solutions to problems- not the problem. Before you can fix the behavior, you as the teacher have to understand what the student's problem is and find ways to help them. The student needs strategies, coping skills, and self-regulation skills. But how do you teach them this if you don't understand them or their struggles they face daily in their lives? The answer is simple, you can't.
I spend a lot of time creating relationships with my students so that they trust me and feel like they can share personal things with me. I am constantly striving to become better at this, but I put a lot of time and effort into getting to know my students. I believe the teacher has the power to make 8 hours of a child's day positive, encouraging, and impactful. If I know that my students have very difficult and challenging home lives, I find ways to try to make it better for them. And sometimes (although it's hard to admit) I can't fix their home life. I can't do a single thing. But I can make 8 hours of their day that much better. I can make that student feel like they want to come back the next day.
So today I had an option. After a student had a meltdown for two hours, I could make the situation worse by punishing him for his behavior. OR I could teach him coping strategies, help him come up with a plan for next time, or help him find a way to make it better. I picked teaching him a coping strategy. He doesn't want to go to mom's this weekend. Plain and simple. I can't change that for him, and neither can he yet because he is only 8 years old. So he feels powerless and out of control. Guess what behaviors he showed for two hours? Out of control yet powerful because he was controlling the situation.
My job is to help him cope with the things he has to do in life that create uncomfortable feelings for him. He doesn't want to go to mom's, but what does he want to do instead? He wants to play video games, but that isn't available this weekend. What else could we do instead? His suggestion was to draw right now. He couldn't free draw at that moment because he needed to be a part of the class activity, but this was something I could help him with. He wants to draw- how about you draw at mom's this weekend? His response- "I can't." Now this is where some teachers would give up because they feel as though a child is choosing to be negative and turn down every answer. Not always the case. I asked him why he can't. His response... "Because all I have is paper. Nothing else." Problem solved. I told him I'd come up with a plan before school ended so that he could draw this weekend.
I put together a bag of paper (just in case), pencils (because what if one breaks? I'm guessing there wouldn't be a sharpener available.), erasers, crayons, and colored pencils. He doesn't have to bring this back. He doesn't have to keep track of the supplies. He gets to take them home and use them. He runs out? I'll give him more. He loses them in the transitions? I'll give him more. These should be non-negotiables for working with students. Show them that you care, because sometimes you may be the only adult to tell them you love them. And just sometimes, you might say it at just the right time when that child needs it the most.
Hi! My name is Mikaela, and I am currently in my second year of teaching second grade. I am working at a Title I school with a diverse population of learners.