Why do so many of you hate children? Maybe hate is a strong word. Shall I say really dislike? I ask myself this question daily when perusing education sites on socials and chatting it up with coworkers in common areas.
As a teacher, many educators would inundate the few precious minutes of free time I had during the day with belly aching about the evil student of the week in their classrooms. I mmmm-hmmm’d them to death while I was rushing to eat my lunch or making copies or peeing and Lord knows we never had enough time to pee. I didn’t have the balls then to tell them to shut the hell up and figure out how to reach their “problem” children. I never put up my hand and paused them with, “But, they only act that way in your class.” or “What are you doing to reach those students?” or “Can I pee in peace, please?”
As a new administrator, I quickly grew weary of the conversations from adults who complained and complained about children. My standard line was, “Do you like teaching? If so, let’s focus on solutions. If not, think of a new profession.” I was given feedback in one of my reviews that I was kinda harsh, so I reserved that conversation for the totally burned out folks.
Now as a seasoned administrator, I bust my butt working hard to transform the mindsets of teachers from negative to positive thinking when serving children and families. It is an exhausting quarterly conversation, but necessary if we want to ensure all of our students are receiving quality educations and teachers are empowered to deliver them. So, how do we truly transform the many teachers from hating the children we serve to loving them and their jobs?
My former Principal and mentor, Dr. Kelli Seaton, is a proponent of transforming educators to best serve children. She taught me many lessons I use daily as a school leader. I often facilitate transformational professional developments on how to shift mindsets. Dr. Seaton taught me that as educators, we often have displaced anger with students and that we are likely upset at the adults in their lives who helped to create their negative school behaviors.
For example, a 10th grader is acting out in class daily, because she reads on a 4th grade level. As a result, she has a tough time keeping up with the lessons. As a Dean, my instinct would be to remove the child, because she’s creating a barrier to other students’ learning as well as her own. The teacher may be resentful, because the student is exhibiting behaviors that affect the pace of the lessons and how other students are learning.
Yes, the 10th grader must take ownership for her actions, but who are we really angry with? Her parents? Past educators? Her community? Society? The curriculum? Who or what is at the root cause of our resentment of this child? Stop. Reflect on it. It’s easy to punish the student.
It’s hard to meet with her parents, her former teachers, etc. and let them know they have failed this child in some way and develop real solutions with them. Those are tough meetings to have, but necessary if we truly want children to succeed.
So what can we do in the interim as teachers? From Learning to Teach…Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers, Linda Shalaway discusses 25 strategies teachers can use when working with challenging children.
Try to understand where the behavior is coming from. Is the student distressed by a death, divorce, new baby, learning disability, or some other overwhelming experience? Speaking to the student’s parents or guardian may shed light on underlying causes and help you develop sympathy through understanding.
Help yourself manage negative feelings by reflecting on a past situation in your life where a similar conflict occurred.Discuss the situation with a friend or by writing your thoughts in a journal. Making and understanding these connections can help you let go of some of your current hostility or resentment.
Use positive strategies when dealing with the child. One such strategy is addressing specific behaviors with precise language that describes what needs to be done. In addition, try to seat the student near to you or a helpful student, praise the student liberally but sincerely, give the student choices to promote self-worth and feelings of control, be firm and consistent about your rules, and express displeasure with the student’s behavior without criticizing the student.
Set a goal. If the situation between you and the child has not improved after two or three months of your best effort, it may be time to recommend professional/psychological/educational testing. Some problems are very complex and beyond your control.
I would also suggest all educators think about their biases when working with children. Look in the mirror, be honest and ask yourself, “Am I the problem?” If you are, seek help from someone you trust on how to overcome your biases.
Speak to a teacher who is having success with the child and ask for some actionable advice. Collaborate with your team of teachers/administrators and develop ways to support learning for challenging students.
Most schools are a think-tank for awesome win-win solutions for children and all of their stakeholders. Use the resources in your school family to support how you teach tough children; school social worker, school counselor, etc.
Build authentic relationships with your students. Get to know who they are individually. What do they do outside of school? Take your prep time one day a week and visit them in other classes. Sit with them and help them learn that period. Let them know you are there for them. In the long run, the child will benefit from you putting in some extra work to ensure the cycle of piss poor education is broken. You will also support the closing of the achievement gap and that’s what our mission is all about. Ya heard…