I have to admit it; I have not loved all of my students in the same way. Not all of my students and I have clicked. Not all of my students and I have had the best relationships. Not for lack of wanting to. Not for lack of trying, but sometimes it seems that bigger things are in play and the universe just doesn’t align. And yet, even if I had a harder time connecting with a child, whatever the reason, I still had to be the very best teacher I could be. So what are some techniques I have used to make sure that I connected on some level, even with the seemingly most challenging students?
Take it personal sometimes. My mantra used to be “don’t take it personal” until I realized that sometimes a poor relationship with a student is indeed a direct reflection to how they feel about me, not what I am doing. So rather than dismiss it, I ask them questions, engage them as an equal to express my concern and then try to reflect on what it is they are reacting to. If it is something I can adapt to or change from, then I do. Other times, I have just had to suck it up and try a different approach.
Speak kindly about them. The quickest way to build personal dislike is to constantly stay focused on the negative attributes of a child; those things that drive you crazy. So turn your thinking around; whenever you feel yourself wanting to say something negative, stop, and find something positive to say instead. Yes, even if it seems contrived, because what you say, you start to believe. So if a child is having a particularly rough day in my classroom or with me, I go out of my way mentally to find something nice to say to others about them. After all, they are running through my mind anyway, why not spread something positive. This doesn’t mean you can’t vent, I think venting about situations can be very powerful, but keep it short and to the point. Prolonged venting only exacerbates the negative emotions already attached to a student or situation.
Find the humor in the situation. Even the kids who have driven me the most crazy can usually make me laugh by now. It wasn’t always that way, but it has become a way for me to create a relationship with someone who I otherwise would probably label as a troublemaker in my mind. So find the funny in the misbehavior, share a funny moment when they are not acting out, use humor as a way to bridge your personalities, even if you still don’t see eye to eye.
Forge a relationship outside of the classroom. Some of my hardest students to teach have also been the ones that I made sure I checked in with outside of school, even if it just meant a casual conversation in the hallway or by the buses. It is a chance for me to see them as kids, not that kid who does everything in their power to disrupt the teaching of others or whatever the situation is inside of class.
Keep digging. I have never met a child who had nothing to like about them, but sometimes you really have to dig for it. Some of my students expect you to hate them when they walk through your doors because that is what they have experienced other times, some of my students hate school so much that they will never love it no matter what we change. Some of my students have to be tough as nails to survive their own lives. Those kids still deserve a teacher that tries to connect with them, even if they rebuff them 100 times, then you try 100 more times, even a little bitty connection is better than giving up.
Treat them as a human being. Too often we start treating them like the label they may have, so a child who is angry becomes known as the angry child, or a student who is disrespectful or disruptive becomes known just for that. Their negative label becomes their identity and nothing else. We cannot let this happen, not in our minds and not in the way we speak of them. They are children, yes, children who seem to have mastered the art of driving you up the wall, but children none the less. And every child deserves to be treated with dignity.
Know when to admit defeat, but not out loud. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, how much we change, how much we reflect and think and do; that child still hates it, that child still hates us. Then our job becomes not to give up but to find another ally for them, to find another adult that can have a great relationship with them and for us not to get in the way. No, that doesn’t mean asking for them to be transferred from our class, but instead allowing for opportunities where they can possibly forge a relationship with another educator or person in your building. Every child deserves someone that will see the good in them, even if you can’t.
PS: A few notes since this post was published a few days ago. I tweaked the title to include the world almost because I don’t think we ever truly give up on child, even if we cannot forge a strong connection with them. We still keep them in our hearts, they still wake us up at night, we still keep trying even when we feel like giving up. That’s what teachers do. Another note is the little bit of wondering there has been on knowing when to admit defeat, some people have viewed this as giving up and that is far from my intent. Admitting defeat to me is humbling because it involves us realizing that we are humans and not every kid will like us. Sometimes a child naturally connects with another adult in our building and rather than get jealous, which yes, can happen, we need to help foster that relationship. I hope this clears everything up a bit.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 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. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.