It’s 12:38 AM. I have been up for the past few hours, bouncing between sick children who want to sleep in my arms. Quite a feat when there is 4 of them, all sad, all needing so much from me, especially as I battle the virus myself. I finally look at my little boy and tell him to go night-night. That he has to get some sleep to feel better, that as much as I wish I could sleep in his crib, I just can’t. He’s two, he doesn’t understand and instead cries as loud as his little lungs will let him. I give him one last hug, tuck him into bed and then walk out. I hate this part of being a parent.
I don’t even make it in to bed before he stands at the gate to his room, crying and loud! When this doesn’t work he yells the one thing that he knows will make me come. Not “Mom.” Not “Help.” But “Poopy!” This little word, that we have been working on saying as we potty train tells him he will get a reaction. That I will come, because I always come running when he says it. Sure enough, I go against my instinct and go to him, only to find that there was no real reason for the word. It was just a tool to use to get me to come. And it worked, I came, and our cycle starts over again.
I think of this clever interaction and realize how often this trick is used in our classrooms. Not that children yell that word or wake me in the middle of the night. But they do the one thing that they know will give them our attention. They act out in such a way that we have no way of ignoring it. They go there, to whatever thing is their most extreme way of getting our attention and then they use it. Whether it is screaming at another student, slamming the door, throwing a chair (all has happened within my room) or even screaming threats at us, they are going there, asking for attention, hoping for us to react and notice them. It doesn’t make it right, or even show rational thinking, but in the moment, when they need us the most, they know it will work.
That’s why I don’t punish relentlessly. That is why I focus more energy on building community, establishing trust, and opening up communication before we get to that point. That’s why I try to be there for every kid, no matter how hard they push me away, no matter how many walls they construct to keep me out. That’s why I try to show each child that they matter. That’s why I try to not give up even when I am at my lowest point, with no energy left. That’s why I keep trying day after day, sometimes moment after moment to make a connection. To let that kid in, even if they don’t want me in their life. So they don’t go there. So they don’t get to that point. But even if they do, then we have something to build on and get us out of it again. That’s why every kid that walks into our room has a chance every day to change, to start over, to show their dreams, and not just their anger. That’s why I teach the way I teach.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.
3 thoughts on “When Students Go There”
So true, Pernille! Thanks for sharing. I sometimes think that because I’m a mother, I have improved as a teacher. I’m not saying that I was a bad teacher before I became a mother; I’m just saying that I have become more aware of student needs because I look at them through a different lens. I internally ask myself…”If I was a parent of that child, how would I want the teacher to respond?” That question makes me more understanding and more compassionate and more challenging. Kids are smart and they want relevant learning experiences. Punishment doesn’t always work. Compassion and true learning experiences are more authentic and stay with the students longer. Isn’t that what we want? We want them to learn and to feel comfortable in our class to learn. Just like we want our own children to learn at home and to feel comfortable with us as their parents. I love my children and I want the best for them….I love my students and I want the best education for them. Isn’t that what all parents and what all teachers want?
This is such a great post, Pernille. Completely dead on and I agree with Maggie! Hope you feel better and all your little kiddies too!
I 100% agree. I know it’s working when the student hardest to like by others, has lots of friends. 🙂 Teachers have so much power–and used badly–it could be ugly. But rainbows happen when all are treated with respect and love. And I agree with Maggie. When a teacher is a parent–you understand the love a parent has for your student. I have always tried to be the teacher I’d want my kids to have. And now that I’m moving from 5th to 1st and have a 1-year-old granddaughter, I will be the teacher I want for her.