Life has been crazy as any of my friends can tell you. I’ve been distant. I’ve been busy. I’ve been completely caught up in my own life. I was already a little self-focused but now I don’t have time to think of anything else.
Today was a day completely different than the last two weeks. Today I came to school prepared to lead my daily routine. Worked in the library. Helped the second graders find their books. Helped kinder. Worked with my fifth graders in gym. It’s awesome to see them trying to jump rope, double dutch, learn turn taking and sharing skills (yes, even in fifth grade these are still super important). Then they surprised me.
Part of my job is to substitute as needed throughout the building. They asked me, five minutes before class, to teach the tough fifth grade class the rest of the day. I smiled and asked questions and said okay. I work with these kids for an hour every day but never where I’m supposed to be in total control. Today…I was terrified.
The first thought that I had was me against them?! No way! Then I had to retrain my self—it’s me WITH them. I’m not against them. They are with me. I had to re-establish myself with them. They’ve always known me as the laid back, lazze-faire teacher that helps them work through problems. They’ve never seen me yell, raise my voice, or expect them to stay on task. Their current teacher finds perfection in chaos—and she loves it. I don’t work that well in chaos.
I had to set new ground rules:
Never, ever, ever get out of your seat without raising your hand
Never, ever, ever talk over me when I’m speaking
Those were really the only two that we had. They thought I was going to be easy and let them do whatever they want but it really wasn’t like that. Ya know what? Three hours in to the day I was pulled to a different classroom and they asked me to stay. I said, “Why would you want me to stay? I’ve made you be quiet, stay on task, and do your work?” They told me that they enjoyed it, asked if I could come back, and said that they really learned something today.
**My friggin’ heart melted. Completely melted.**
I left for an hour to head to the library, worked with my kinders for a bit and went back to the classroom to help for the rest of the day. Earlier we had worked on a bit of math (fractions, yuck!), worked on vocabulary and narratives, and then I got to teach them about Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Declaration of Independence—they were responding, talking, paying attention, quiet, on task, in their seats…they were working so hard it was amazing! ‘
When I came back to the class at the end of the day my problem child was…well…having a bit of a problem day. He had already fought me the entire day. From gym to bathroom breaks to lunch, to every subject he fought and fought. He was on the ground. Sticking his head in his desk. Calling me out. Being obnoxious. Angry. Defiant. Oppositional. I finally pulled him off to the side and asked him if it was me—if I was making him mad or if I did something to upset him. Was it something I could fix? How can I help? He said no every time and seemed to soften a little bit. We talked. He told me what he wanted—fifteen minutes on the computer. I bargained with him—work for me and I’ll work for you. When kids are that low on the respect/expectation scale you have to start somewhere. Sometimes Skinner’s token/reward system is the best place to start.
It’s like a flip switched. I gave him the option of where to work—he chose to work with me one on one outside the classroom. I gave him the option of him reading or me reading. He chose to read the questions and asked me to read the paragraphs. He worked hard. He fought through the sentences. He spelled and misspelled and fought and corrected…he responded when I asked questions and gave examples…stuff that he never, ever does in a social setting. He answered questions about his home, where he lived, when he moved, if he liked it here, if he liked his class.
He aced the first packet and then I gave him the option of working on the second one in or out, alone or with me. He chose again one on one, alone, with me. This time he chose to read half the page and I’ll read half the page—and that he will read the questions.
The information is getting through—he’s retaining it and is able to regurgitate it. He just can’t read. To be candid: in the classroom setting with peer judgement and influence he can be a real shithead, lol, but when he’s on his own his entire hard outter shell is gone—completely scraped away—and he is compliant, willing, and wanting to try, succeed, learn, and hear ‘good job.’
At the end of the day he’s just another troubled kid with every ability to succeed. I hope that I can see him to success over the next seven months. I have high hopes for him.