anger, hopes, love, students

Dear Arnold Once More

Dear Arnold,

I haven’t heard anything for so long, and yet, there you are again, coming into my life but this time only through conversation.  It seems that my angry 4th grader only grew into an even angrier 6th grader.  Someone whom the system failed and who is now set to be expelled from not just another school, but an entire district.  The news is given to me nonchalantly like it is no big deal but just another update on an old student but they don’t know.  They don’t know how I worry about you still, how I carry your smile with me, how I reflect on what I could have done better.  My heart sinks, and the heaviness of this job gets to me.
My principal asks what happened to you back then?  We failed, that’s what happened.  We tried to get you help but the red tape was too much, it was too ever present, looming over us at every step of the way.  Those people just wouldn’t listen when we told them that we felt that this was it; this was your moment to choose your path, and we were so worried with the direction you were headed. So we just focused on getting you through that day, rather than giving you the chance of getting better, of getting help.  And now you pay the price for our failure.  You are the one who even an alternative school has failed because all of that anger inside of you just keeps on coming.  
So I try to reach out, to help from afar, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do.  Except I can’t just give up like others.  I can’t just let it go.  You may not see what I see in you, or even understand why this crazy white teacher keeps fighting for you, but you matter.  Demons like those you battle are not meant for children.   Kids your age should not be worried about the burdens you carry, real or perceived.  You should be playing soccer, or hanging with your friends, by now even checking out girls.  And instead the anger has fused into your spine as you carry yourself through those hallways, glancing at everyone as you prepare to fight. The world is not against you, even if it seems that way.
So Arnold, I know I can’t save you, but I say it again; I am here if you need me.  I am here to listen, to vent with, even if I will never understand why you are so angry.  Even if I will never live your life.  You are not alone, you are not a failure, you are kind, you have the greatest heart of any child I know, you matter.  Don’t let the world take that away from you.
Mrs. Ripp
From i can read
anger, assumptions, behavior, being a teacher, classroom expectations, classroom setup, noncompliance, students

Are We Forcing Students to be Noncompliant?

Noncompliance; just the word makes me shudder.  So many connotations, so much negativity connected to this word, particularly in a classroom setting and yet you hear it whispered in the hallways, “noncompliance…”  This word means:  The failure or refusal to comply, meaning someone who is not following directions whether intentional or not.  It is a mantra that we repeat, we must have students that comply in order to be successful.  Without compliance our classrooms would simply fall apart.  

Think about your day; you expect certain things out of the students for the classroom to work.  Perhaps these expectations are simple such as signing in, getting to work, hanging your backpack, and handing in your homework.  Or perhaps these expectations are ones that have been taught, such as raising your hand, not interrupting, working hard and trying your best.  Whatever your expectations, sometimes there are kids that do not comply.  I once had a student that didn’t comply, it was a tough year, everything was a battle.  And yet, it was not because of a refusal to do so, he simply failed in the act of complying.  He had too many demons to battle that there simply was not enough life energy left over to focus on all of my expectations and demands.   So he was, indeed, noncompliant.  

Think about the heaviness that comes with that word, though, when we label our students.  Is it really because they are truly refusing or is it because of failure in communications or expectations?  Perhaps a child becomes noncompliant because we set up perimeters in which they cannot succeed.  Think of the child that fiddles, that child will not perform as expected if we set them up with nothing to fiddle with.  Or the child that learns kinestethically rather than orally; if we continue to just talk rather than do, they might also not conform or do what we expect.

So when you set up your classroom expectations, think about what you are asking every student to do.  Does every rule need to apply to ever student?  How many rules or expectations does there really need to be?  Don’t forget about your hidden assumptions that you have to communicate as well.  What in your learning environment can you change to to give the biggest percent of kids a chance to be compliant?  We often assume that students defy us on purpose, rather than figuring out the reason.  And yet, sometimes the real reasons for students behavior may be something we would have never guessed.  Instead of battling later, don’t set your room up for battle instead set up your room for freedom so that students may have choices.  Offer them an opportunity to be successful, to be compliant, to want to learn, after all, most ids do really like school.  Let’s not take that away from them.