I tend to gravitate to the kids that other teachers can’t stand. I guess because it brings back a lot of memories because I was always the misfit in school. I was too shy and definitely wasn’t the most popular in school. I was also the least athletic so I was always the last one chosen on a team in PE. I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the package so teachers didn’t consider me their pet student either. I felt like the poor relation because my mother made most of my clothes while everyone else had store bought fancy name stuff and they looked cool too! Let’s face it, I blended in the background and hope to stay under the radar so no one would notice me and it worked. As a teacher, I look for these types of kids or the ones that aren’t the “chosen” ones by the teachers because I really understand how they feel.
I see the “bad” student who drives the teachers up the wall and I consider it a challenge. What makes this student so “bad” and why is this student trying to portray this image? I really don’t think kids want to be seen as “bad” unless they are getting something out of it. If you search hard enough you can find out that they are seeking adult attention or using it as a defense mechanism to cover something else up but most people don’t want to spend the time looking for this.
I had a 15 year old student, J, who drove everyone up the wall because he couldn’t sit still or focus. I finally sat down with J and talked to him about his behavior and why he was acting this way. Apparently no one had ever done this before and after saying nothing was wrong, we finally got to the root of the problem. He had stopped taking his medication for ADD but hadn’t told anyone. J felt the medication made him too drowsy and he was missing out on all the fun his friends were having. Since he loved to skateboard, it also made his reflexes slower so he had trouble skateboarding which in turn made his friends laugh at him. We talked about how his behavior affected his classwork and relationship with other teachers and he understood it but felt like he was making the choice that worked for him. I asked Jif we could tell his parents and maybe they could relay these feelings to the doctor so his medication could be adjusted. He had never thought about that. You see, he was really a good kid, and he wanted to do right in classes but he also wanted to skateboard and have friends. After having a conference, the parents made a doctor’s appointment and did have the medication adjusted. Not only was the dosage changed but the times he was taking it so that by the time J was out of school, the effects were wearing off. This also meant he had to work harder at controlling his behavior towards the end of the day and he did. If I hadn’t been able to establish a trust with J, I don’t think he would have told me his feelings and we wouldn’t have been able to work out a solution. If I had only seen J as a “bad” kid and moved on to the “good” kids, what would have happened to him?
I remember many years ago a student named N at the my very first high school where I taught. N was really rough around the ages. She dressed like she was in a gang, and I had heard rumors that she had a drinking problem. Being a large girl, she was pretty intimidating, even to me. For some reason I felt drawn to her. She wasn’t in any of my classes but she hung around the area where my classroom was so we had a few conversations. One day she was really upset and I asked her if she wanted to sit in my room and get herself together and then I’d give her pass to her class. She looked surprised and later told me that no teacher had ever been nice to her. After that, she would always talk to me and I would ask her about her day and how things were going. When softball season was beginning, I happened to mention to her about it and asked her if she was going to try out. She looked at me like I was crazy! She told me that no one would let her play on a team and I was crazy for even thinking about it. Being a stupid young I-want-to-change-the-world teacher, I bet her they would if she was good enough. Not knowing that she took it as a “real” bet, she tried out. I don’t know what she would have done if I had lost but thank goodness, she made the team. There was an awesome coach who also could see beneath the tough exterior and think there was something worth saving in this girl. The rest of the team (and parents, I’m sure) thought we were nuts for encouraging her but we did. She played for the softball team for 4 years and I never saw any family show up to watch her play so my husband and I became her surrogate parents. She never missed a practice and her behavior improved in school (or she wouldn’t have been able to play). She still dressed and acted tough but you could tell she took pride in being on the team. Another teacher and husband took her under her wing and N. ended up living with them after high school. I was so proud of N and the team when they went on to regional softball champions for the first time ever. I feel this took place because there were some of us who were willing to look beneath that rough outside for the real person inside.
I challenge anyone who is reading this post to find someone who really gets on their nerves or is the outcast of the rest of the people you are near. This can be a student, a colleague, or even a neighbor. Look at the behaviors that drive you crazy and decide that you are going to look past that to find out the inside person. Begin with making some personal contact and act like you just met this person for the first time. Ask them questions about their personal interests. Maybe you will have something in common or maybe they will just appreciate you taking an interest in them. Look for something positive in this person. I’m not saying you have to be this person’s best friend or love them for life, but just find one good thing about them and try to focus on that when you are near them. It will rub off on them and maybe others too. You never know where this adventure will lead you!
Original image: 'Unexpected Tenderness' http://www.flickr.com/photos/74693095@N00/462682783by: Tim Williams