DEALING WITH PROBLEM STUDENTS
Most students are cooperative if a teacher makes the effort to be understanding, show respect, and keep class interesting. Most students. Occasionally, a school gets someone like the boy who was still in fourth grade at age fifteen, never gave any teacher more cooperation than “You let me sleep through class and I won’t bother you either,” and eventually wound up in jail for slugging a teacher who gave him a hard time about that.
Such cases are obviously extreme exceptions. But sooner or later, you’re sure to be assigned a student who sulks through every class, insists he’s too stupid to learn anything, or seems determined to make everyone dislike him. How do you handle these hard cases?
As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” The chronically aggressive or unmotivated student nearly always had some authority figure in her life who treated her as worthless, gave only conditional love, or failed to protect her from abuse. Early experiences leave their mark, often convincing the child that she really is worthless, no one can be trusted, and/or she’s been cheated by having to live in a world where happiness is reserved for others.
It’s up to you to show her a different example by being patient and understanding.
Don’t tolerate intolerable behavior on the excuse “she’s suffered enough,” but don’t be any harsher with her than with those for whom such behavior is the exception. And never, under any circumstances, label anyone a “bad kid” or a troublemaker. However they act, keep a distinction between the behavior and the person.
Give Them a Better Reputation to Live Up To
Some “problem kids” aren’t actually hurting, just gifted with learning or personality styles that fit poorly with a classroom’s preferred approach. Make sure everyone has adequate opportunities to discover and exercise their natural strengths. And remember that “undesirable” traits are often mischanneled strengths: the “rowdy” kid is often the frustrated initiator or leader who naturally plays poorly with “Do it this way because that’s the way it’s done.”
Remember, people become what they focus on. Make a big deal of a student’s weak points, and his whole performance will fall apart. Encourage him to use his strengths, and he’ll improve all over.
Speak Well of Others Behind Their Backs
Teachers, like other professionals, often spend their break times bemoaning everything they don’t like about the job. This is a bad idea in any context, but especially where it involves complaining about “impossible” students. What you’re really doing is talking yourself into believing this or that student is hopeless, which will make it difficult to treat her any other way face to face. Focus on the positive in all your students, whether they’re physically present or not.
And whatever happens in class or out, keep coming back to the message, “I believe in you. I believe the best of everyone.”