A letter to all my wonderful teachers out there below!
I know you’re tired, unbelievably stressed, and possibly even second guessing your ability to do this job day after day. If you’re like the majority of us you are running on coffee, lack of sleep, and a timeline crunch… You might be feeling like things are crazy right now. Observations are coming, there are a million new initiatives you’re trying to learn, and you’re not on target for the curriculum assessments because things just keep coming up and lesson time gets lost. I totally get it. My only hope of sharing a small portion of my truth with everyone is that you simply just think about the mindset you show up to work with each day to continue our work to inspire, teach, guide, mentor & encourage… Especially during October.
As teachers, we enter our schools, walk into our classrooms, and teach tiny humans day after day. October is a tough time of year… Sometimes even harder than surviving the first month of school… I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt, heard, and thought some of following statements:
“I’m exhausted. I’m tired. I’m not sleeping at night. I’m overwhelmed because people keep putting things on my plate. I’m frustrated. I don’t understand why some humans behave the way that they do. I don’t understand why people spread hate, lies, and degrade each other. I feel like I suck at being a wife 75% of the time. I’m sick and it’s always those days my students can sense it. They won’t stop talking when I’m talking… I can’t get through the curriculum. I have no support from my admin. My students don’t respect me. I have to sit through boring professional development that I don’t care about– it could have been sent out in an e-mail. Ugh Jane asks such stupid questions. WHY IS LUCY STILL TALKING. DIANE IS ALWAYS ON HER COMPUTER DURING PD. Do my students not realize I spent so much time putting this lesson together? All these worksheets and anchor charts? I have to work during my planning period. I don’t know why they keep giving me the hard kids. My class is so bad. I gave them directions and they still asked what they needed to do. Admin need to see how bad it is in here. *Teacher calls office for support* John is blurting out hurtful comments directed at me. Chloe won’t stop wandering around. Jake left the classroom. Joe is angry and won’t stop slamming his desk. I can’t support them… they have to many needs. I have to think of my other 24 students. I have no control over my classroom. I have no control.”
Being a teacher is hard and if you’re one of those mystical teachers that are a teacher AND a mom/dad … you’ve taken multi-tasking ninja to a whole new level.
When we feel like we have lost control in our lives or in our classrooms, often times we feel a whirlwind of emotions. We place blame on lack of support, we place blame on our administrators and our school policies. We place blame on the make up of our class and sometimes we place blame on our students… and most often our most “challenging” students are the final straw.
As if teaching isn’t complicated enough… the students that exhibit the most challenging behavior are often the ones that need us to pause in that moment of complete frustration to avoid reinforcing there inner voice that tells them they are bad, or stupid, or don’t matter.
I want to challenge you to try to take the challenge out of “challenging” students… even with all the stuff we experience on a day to day basis.
Think of a student who is exhibiting negative behavior at your school or in your classroom. This student you’re thinking of… They are probably feeling pretty similar to you right now… but with way less control in their lives. I don’t know about you, but I had no control over anything in my life, not even what I had for dinner or the clothes I wore… The only thing I could control was… the way I reacted and treated people. I’ve also heard a lot of teachers say challenging kids need special education because they don’t know what to do with them… They’ve tried everything…
Here is the truth: They need you. They need you to begin reflecting on your mindset and perspective about them… and try not to see them as a challenge to your job… see them as an opportunity. An opportunity to make a difference… And all you have to do is change the way you see them… Which… is not an easy task. But here’s my shot at prompting a little self-reflection:
When our students (and especially our students with challenging behavior) enter our schools, walk into our classrooms, day after day… They are thinking and feeling:
“I’m exhausted. I’m tired. I’m not sleeping at night. I’m overwhelmed because people keep putting things on my plate. I’m frustrated. I don’t understand why some humans behave the way that they do. I don’t understand why people spread hate, lies, and degrade each other. I feel like I suck at being a student. I am sick and those days my teachers can sense it. The teacher won’t stop talking when I’m thinking about if they’re mom is okay or why Johns dad dropped him off but my dad left me. I can’t focus on the worksheet. I have no support from my teachers. My teacher doesn’t respect me. I have to sit through boring lessons that I don’t care about– I’ve got other things to do. UGH. Why does Jane care about learning? LUCY IS SO ANNOYING. Why does Jack get to be the line leader? Do my teachers not realize I’m hungry or lonely? That I feel stupid? That I feel like people always leave me? I have to work during my recess. I don’t know why I keep getting all the mean teachers. My principal need to come in here to help us. *Teacher calls office for support* My teacher is saying comments that hurt me. My teacher won’t leave me alone. My teacher doesn’t care about my learning she/he sends me out of class. My teacher is angry and won’t stop yelling. No one can support me… I have to many needs. The other 24 students are more important than me.”
Just like us.
The way our beliefs, our values, and our experiences guide our reactions… Their beliefs, their values, and their experiences have already shaped their reactions. Their reactions are being shaped by the world we live in, what is happening in their home life, and the way WE react to them.
My belief around behavior is that behavior is a form of communication when a need in our life is not met. I believe behavior is learned, reinforced, and becomes internalized in our self-identity. If behavior is learned, then I have taught and reinforced some pretty negative things in the 3 years of my career.
One of the hardest realizations that I’ve had as a teacher is that there isn’t one second in my day when I am not teaching… something. Students see when I snap at a student, or use the threat of a punitive consequence. They see when I am patient and understanding with students who are having a difficult time to make good choices. As a special education teacher one of the most common things I hear is: he/she was being disrespectful to/by _________________. Depending on the situation, a phone call is made in front of the entire class asking for assistance or a punitive consequence is given… or the teacher redirections and says, “that is not nice. You need to apologize” or the “go to the office” technique. Hey– I’m guilty of all these things too… I had never stopped to ask myself what is this teaching my students? Once I did, I realized I wasn’t honoring the same expectation that I had set for them. Those little challenges in the “challenging” students are daily opportunities that are most likely in the process of developing their self-identity as a learner and a human. They’ve already learned the negative behavior, it’s been reinforced by meeting their desired need: attention, escape, avoidance, or control… and when those “challenging” kids show up in our classrooms or at our schools, we have an opportunity, not a challenge.
Every single day we have an opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life. I think sometimes we view difference as being a journey to academic success, but before that happens, there are many other differences that need to be made first. Every student you encounter that is expressing their need in a negative way is allowing YOU to have an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be your best self… which allows our challenging students and our compliant students to learn through the example we set. I’m still on this journey and will be for a while… but I’m thinking about it 🙂
The days where we are exhausted and frustrated and have lost all control in our lives– you’re not alone in that journey… Our students feel the same way we do… But before we can see the difference in our classroom, we have to make the difference in ourselves first.
It’s basically a win-win… If only this was easy…..:) I definitely had to refocus myself when a student was trying to get her needs met in a very disrespectful way… I felt so much better after I was able to check myself, sneak in a mini deep breath, and then continue the conversation.
What are your beliefs about student behavior? What are your thoughts on taking the challenge out of challenging behavior? Join me in the pursuit of supporting each and every student!