If you teach long enough, you will eventually get a student who has given up on school. We’ll call this student, Child X. Child X doesn’t follow the rules and couldn’t care less what the consequence are when he/she breaks a rule. Nothing you’ve tried, including an office referral, has fazed this student. What can you do with a child that has given up?
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to substitute for a vice-principal. It was quite an eye-opening experience. You know how we as teachers feel like non-teachers don’t really understand the difficulties of our job. I can tell you that after having a very small glimpse of the life of a vice-principal, we as teachers don’t know all of the challenges our administrators face on a daily basis. Sitting behind the big desk is very stressful. The experience did teach me some valuable lessons that I was able to take back to the classroom. One of the best lessons I learned was dealing with students who have given up. I think I was able to reach these students in a new way because I was an outsider. The students could tell me what they really think, rather than censoring their thoughts. The story I heard over and over was “my teacher doesn’t like me” or “nothing I do is ever good enough”. My first question I asked them after they told me this was, “what have you done that would make a teacher not like you.” They need to take ownership for their behavior. After some hesitation on the students part, they eventually began listing all of the rules that they broke. I explained to them that their teacher likes them, but do not like the way they behave. I then showed them my copy of The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners and asked if they remembered this book. Keep in mind the students I was working with were 4th and 5th grade boys. They looked at me like I had grown two heads. Eventually they admitted they remembered their first grade teacher reading this book. We discussed what happened in the story. Brother and Sister Bear decide they are going to go overboard with their manners. They will be EXTRA polite. I challenged them to an experiment. I told them to be EXTRA polite for a week to see if this would make a difference in how others treated them. We brainstormed ways to be extra polite. They agreed to do things like use “ma-am” or “sir” with their teachers, look their teacher in the eye when speaking to him/her, offer to help classmates/teachers, and above all else follow the rules. I told them that each day I would pop into their classroom to check on them. At the end of the week, I spoke to the boys again and they agreed that they had a lot in common with Brother and Sister Bear. Being extra polite was a good thing. I’m convinced that some of these students who have given up act like this because they feel like they are a victim. When they feel like no one likes them or they are never good enough, they are powerless. When you encourage them to take ownership for their behavior, you empower them.