Throughout my teaching career my most challenging students have been my best teachers. As I begin another school year, I’m shifting my mindset about how I approach these children. What will this year’s challenging students teach me? How will they help me be a better teacher?
I will learn consistency from the student who is perpetually defiant. This student is testing me to see if I care enough about him to follow through on what I say. He’s craving firm boundaries because he doesn’t have them at home. Limits make him feel safe because he knows in advance what is expected of him. He hears a lot of negativity at home. I’ll frame my redirections in positive statements to show him there’s another way to communicate. Getting angry and raising my voice will only further escalate the defiance. I’m going to be consistently calm with him. He will make me a better teacher.
My controlling student will show me how to offer students more choices in their day. I tend to be controlling too. Giving up some of my control to this student will help me let go. She’s looking for control because she doesn’t have much at home. Offering her choices in the way she demonstrates competency, where she sits, and the order in which she completes her work will make her feel like she’s worthy of making decisions. These choices will give her a sense of power over her day. Because I’m wiser, I know which choices it’s okay for her to make and which ones I need to continue to make on her behalf. She will make me a better teacher.
The student who perseverates will teach me about anxiety and its implications on our youth. The skills I learn from working with him will show me know how to calm others who suffer from anxiety. I’ll be reassuring, have a confident demeanor and identify which strategies help him store his worries in a safe place so he can temporarily focus his thinking on our curriculum. He’ll help me remember we all have irrational fears. He’ll make me a better teacher.
My student who has frequent crying or screaming outbursts will teach me patience. The strategies I use to keep calm during her outburst, like deep breathing, focusing on a positive thought, or staying present in the moment, will help her calm down too. She will help me remember what’s really important, not delivering as much content as possible, but being there emotionally for my students. She has not had the opportunity to practice other ways to get her needs met. I will give her lots of opportunities to practice. She will make me a better teacher.