Friday, May 22, 2009

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're out to get you

I have a student, S, who is, shall we say, "a handful". I really like her, but she is Difficult with a capital D.

Example: we've had a three-year power struggle over whether or not she is going to spend every class tipped back in her chair. This is a pet peeve of mine and the rule is "four on the floor." She will keep her feet and two chair legs on the floor and tell me "that IS four on the floor!" We finally resolved the power struggle when I began bribing her to sit up straight. I told her I'd give her a cookie if she behaved one day, and she did. I have inconsistently rewarded good behavior since then and what do you know? She CAN behave.

I was reminiscing today that she reminds me of another student, Lydia. Lydia and Evelyn were best friends and were incredibly disruptive. In seventh grade, they got on a barking kick. They would randomly and frequently bark like dogs. They could not be enticed to stop. (I was a new teacher; I didn't have a lot of tricks to try.) They mostly only did it in my class. Every period with them was a trial.

Finally, I had a talk with Lydia and the guidance counselor had a talk with Evelyn, where we told them how awful it was. They were flabbergasted. Truly shocked. I said, "Lydia, I yell at you guys to stop all the time!" She told me, "but we love joking around with you! You never get mad, you just laugh." I told her, "I hate it. I get so frustrated. Every day when I leave your class, I'm in a terrible mood. It isn't funny to me." They stopped after that.

Lydia is my touchstone to not take student behavior personally. Even when I think they couldn't possibly be unaware how irritating they are, chances are much better that they have no idea than that they do. (Disclaimer: this may not be true in other schools.) I can't think of one time when I've tracked down even truly shocking behavior and had the kid have any malicious intent.

It's one of the reasons I love kids - they're so self-absorbed and it's completely developmentally appropriate. If adults behaved this way, I would either be mad because it was intentional or I would be mad because they ought to predict the impact of their behavior. With kids, once I stop being mad, I just laugh. (Barking? Really?) I guess Lydia had a point.


  1. Barking in class? These middle schoolers aren't *too* much different than college freshmen. (haha...just kidding...sort of)

  2. This reminds me of my struggles with Khaled, a student who consistently made me crazy and was always shocked when I got mad. You'll find part of his story here: