There are those students who lack self-regulation, those with ADHD, an enormous amount of energy bursting to be focused, and those who are a less mature and lacking social skills. Then, there are those students who truly challenge all of our actions, at every turn - who defy, who re-draw the boundary line, who reach out to others one minute and put up walls the next.
A veteran teacher might realize these are the students who are truly hurting, but as a new teacher, the picture is not always clear the first time around. You have a gut feeling, but you fail to connect all the dots. I think now of a student who has posed this particular challenge for the latter half of this school year. Every day poses a new balancing act, where I walk the line between firm discipline and warm positive reinforcement, and this student decides to give or take, to shake the line or to walk the line with me.
I very recently found out much more about this child’s situation than I was aware of before. I was stunned at the information revealed to me. I had bits and pieces, of course, from being in contact with this student’s family, due to other related (but veiled) incidents and behaviors in class. Now, I feel as if I’ve been groping in the dark, trying to find the light switch by brushing every inch of the wall, with a vague idea of for what I'm looking and where. I have a changed perspective and different understanding as to why I have been witnessing an escalation in certain behaviors.
This student, and others in such "unfair" environments, are the ones who are the center of this post – the ones who need a rock on which to push against, swim around, and rest upon when too exhausted to fight back. The ones who have had experiences outside of school that have hurt and warped their perspectives on life and reality, experiences of which some of us wouldn’t dream.
Guilt is not too far behind me; I try not to succumb. For me, the lesson is in this moment. Children who act out in such ways don’t do so to intentionally harm or cause pain; they do so because they are feeling something with which they cannot cope alone, and they are seeking attention and care by exaggerating and acting out the dark things to which they should have never encountered. It can be a scary world. I know, now, some of this far-reaching truth.
I also realize, quite poignantly, the need to find and keep faith in the potential of human resilience and overcoming. I also have a heightened awareness of the importance of keeping close contact, as much as possible, with families, especially if there’s any hint of a questionable situation(s) occurring in the home or elsewhere. Forming these close relationships with families, and the child, is not a guarantee to getting through or helping any particular student – but no change can ever be made without this connection and awareness.
I vow to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to this particular child’s needs in the coming months. May we, as teachers, put ourselves on the front line, selflessly, to support in any way we can those students in need – at times, the ones who are the first to hit on our last nerve. May we reframe their actions as a cry for help, rather than just another behavior issue.