I sub and volunteer in the middle school where I taught last year. It’s fabulously fun. Yesterday, a former student introduced me to her friend. “This is Mrs. Ciula. She was my teacher last year, and I hated her because she pushed me so much to work hard and to think. Now I know that she had my best interest in mind, that she did it for me.” She looked sideways at me to judge my response to the word “hated”. I knew what she really meant; she did not hate me (she hugged me nearly every day), she hated my insistence on effort and quality. She saw in my face that I understood and appreciated her comments, hugged me again, and bounced out of the room with her friend in tow.
This is why I became a teacher; I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, even if it is a small difference, a tiny contribution to one person’s growth.
Yet I find myself dwelling instead on the handful of students with whom I struggle to build relationships. Perhaps because the struggle remains unresolved. It shouldn’t have bothered me that a few students in my classroom yesterday behaved just like they did last year. But it did— I was disappointed that they had not matured, and annoyed that I STILL did not have solutions. I take it rather personally when I feel like I am not reaching a student, that no matter what I do or say positively alters their disruptive, defiant behavior. It’s exhausting. When a couple of students were working so hard at pulling others off task and defying my efforts to redirect their energy, I resorted to removing them from the room. From their perspective, I’m sure this were received as anger and confirmed their beliefs about authority. Many of their peers view their sass as highly entertaining and funny. Their actions and my reactions were like a well-rehearsed dance, tedious in its predictability.
I was not angry; I was frustrated with them and disappointed in me. What they were doing was getting in the way of what others wanted and needed to do. OK, if I’m going to be really honest, that part actually does make me angry– the fact that they succeeded in part in gaining power in the room. Not productive power, just power to control the room. I don’t believe that any person (adult or student) has the right to rob another of their learning.
I know their attitudes and behaviors are similar in every classroom, but it bothers me that I can’t figure them out, that I don’t have the sufficient time or expertise needed. I realize that the causes of their behavior, whatever they may be, are complex and have compounded over time, and have even become habitual. Its like they have walls up and they have to maintain a facade so that no one, not even their peers, will ever know what they really think or feel. Their behavior has given them status among their friends–why risk that? Plus, there’s that power thing….
So far, all I know is what doesn’t work. I want ALL of my students to be engaged in learning, but these particular ones are just not interested. To them, School = Compliance, and they are resisting. I know there are seriously real reasons for their lack of interest and their resistance, but without finding out what they are and addressing them directly, nothing will ever change for these people.
To quote Justin Aion —
“Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, can we acknowledge that student engagement is a bigger issue than making our lessons “more engaging”?”