Dialogue on Disruptive Students
Elementary History Teacher and DCS had an exchange of comments in my last post, and I began to write my own comment in response. The comment was getting so long, however, that I decided to make it my next post. Don't worry, though; I will get back to the myths.
Here is Elementary History Teacher's comment:
I explain to my students every year my title is teacher not learner. I teach and they learn. I cannot learn for them. I can provide opportunities for them to learn and I can provide different methods for the learning but they have to do something. There are a growing number of students today who do not respond to any of my invitations to learn. They prefer to disrupt, threaten, and commit violence. Their actions negate their right to be in the learning environment because they threaten the success of others.
Here is DCS's comment:
I can understand and agree with much that everyone is saying. Let me just say that that even though most teachers are dedicated to their profession and their students, there are teachers in the classroom who disengage their students on the first day. So do parents. I know because I've seen it first-hand.
Kids say things that are inappropriate and not well thought out. As adults, we must be careful not to take everything personally. Many kids go through stuff today that we adults never had to experience at their age.
If a student told me that I failed, I'd ask him why he thinks that. Sometimes there is something else going on with the student that really has nothing to do with you.
Finally, to Elementaryhistoryteacher - I get your point. However, let me say this: I hope teachers as a group understand that lifelong learning is important and that we can all learn something from our children. Kids have a way of getting to the heart of a matter very quickly and offering fresh perspectives on issues. They can also sense quickly when adults don't respect them.
Even as the parent, I have always allowed my children to speak their mind about anything, as long as they do it with respect. If there is an outburst of angst, where I'm accused of something, I'll ask my child questions to see what's going on with her. Often, it's something that has nothing to do with me. Sometimes I have goofed. In those cases, I apologize. Apologizing doesn't make me a weak parent.
As someone who has worked one-on-one with students failing in communication arts, I have found that many of these children act out but are actually great readers. With these kids, I look for creative ways to engage the student first - which often involves listening. I don't judge them. Once we have established rapport, it's easier to get positive outcomes from these students.
As an educator and a parent, I make a point of trying to look at situations as if I were a kid. In addition, if my child and I disagree about something, I explain my position from the vantage point of an adult. Often, my child will tell me that she never "thought about it that way." Again, I think we adults must remember this: "It's not always about you."
And now the old guy's two cents worth:
In DCS's comment, there is nothing I can point to and say, "That's wrong!" DCS has such an impressive knowledge base and everything she writes is so well thought out that I try to avoid arguing with her. I'd much rather argue with people who don't know anything or who shoot from the hip. Then I get to win once in awhile. Nevertheless, I do have a different perspective than her in dealing with difficult students.
There is nothing more frustrating for me than having a really disruptive student in class. DCS says in her comment that there are things some of these kids have to go through that we never did, and I know she's right. But it's so hard to keep that in mind when one of these students is destroying what you are trying to do in a classroom. DCS also says that teachers need to realize that it isn't about us. I would like to put up a front of righteous indignation, and pretend that I've never thought that it's about me, but I have to admit that there have been times when I've been guilty of taking things personally. Nevertheless, the thing that is foremost in my mind when I am in front of the classroom is to teach the 25-30 kids that I have in that room. It's not just about that one disruptive student, and it's not just about me; it's about the other students in that classroom who are being hurt by what that disruptive student is doing, and what they are missing out on because of all the attention I've got to be giving to him.
Before I go on, I do want to say that I have had some successes in dealing with disruptive kids. One of the highlights of my career involved a kid who was classified as EBD that I had in a basic class that I taught three years ago. He failed the first quarter, and was a constant irritant in class. By the fourth quarter, however, he completely turned around. He was earning As and Bs, and he was THE positive leader in the class. I can remember showing a video, and when it was over, he said, "That was really a good video!" The other students nodded in agreement. I have no doubt that if he had said it was lousy, that would have been followed by a chorus of, "Yeah, that really sucked!" from the rest of the class.
I think there were four factors that caused this student to turn around the way he did: 1. He was a basketball player, and he realized that if he didn't pick it up, he would be never be eligible. 2. Once he started making an effort in the class, he realized it was possible for him to do quite well. 3. There were no other disruptive students in that class, so he had no one to feed off. 4. We had a great social worker who met with him regularly.
I wish I could say that I have succeeded like this on a regular basis, but that is not the case. Very few of my disruptive students have ever turned around.
I have a great deal of empathy for Elementary History Teacher, because it sounds like she has had a number of disruptive kids to deal with this year. There have only been a couple of times during my career when I've had more than one or two really disruptive kids in one of my classes, and those classes have truly been nightmares. If there are three or four really disruptive kids in a class, they will inevitably drag along three or four other kids who wouldn't be any problem if they were in another class. The class becomes a circus as six or seven students try to outdo each other with acts of sneakiness and misbehavior, and it is almost impossible for any learning to take place. Normally, I love seeing my students out in the hallways before and after school and in-between classes. I thoroughly enjoy joking with them, chatting with them, or just saying, "Hi!" to them, and hearing them say, "Hey, Mr. Ferm" in return. But when I had those nightmare classes, I would actually feel embarrassed anytime I saw students from that class that actually wanted to learn something. Then I did feel like I was failing, because I was letting those students down. It was very difficult for me to feel understanding or sympathy for the kids who were destroying that class.
I am thankful that I have had so few classes like that, but I know there are teachers in some areas of the nation who go through that class after class, year after year. Quite frankly, I don't know how they do it.