Even as our students’ specific emotional, learning, and behavioral problems challenge us daily (and relentlessly), one cannot discount the aggravation and headaches caused by parents and other associated adults. Today, for example, a sixth grader spent a good part of the morning disrupting the office area, walking in and around the program hallways and offices, singing out silly chants, macho threats, and loud, animal-like noises. At one point he threw a plastic ball directly and with great force at a spot on the wall just inches away from the crisis counselor’s head (“But it didn’t hit her!”).
When the teacher called his parents, the father began to yell at the teacher, blaming her and criticizing her for calling him. All this, even though he and the child and the teacher had made a behavior contract just days before stipulating that this very behavior would trigger various consequences, including the phone call to have him picked up from school. And at the time, the father was the one who insisted that the call and the pick up be part of the contract.
So, who is the real problem here?
This morning’s writing workshop began with something very age/ grade appropriate, but something I often avoid….. an editing practice paragraph that calls for kids to notice when punctuation and capitalization needs to be added. The very look of this kind of work can be quite intimidating,( so school-ish looking), and the kids are often sure they will never be able complete such difficult work!!! As I planned this activity, I was reminded how much time I spend trying to “disguise” what I am teaching. I keep the goals and objectives specific and clear, but the presentation and practice of the lessons often need to come at the kids in a round-about way….” through the back door”, as it were. Games and role playing, drawing and talking, group activities that let me closely observe kids’ work in action, etc: the key is to lead kids to learning without looking too bookish. Bookishness scares a lot of my students. It triggers the fears and resistance so detrimental to the learning process.
But today, with lots of assurances that they would get any help they needed, I was able to introduce and teach the process of editing within the context of the written paragraph. Kids took turns practicing, trying out the new ideas, accepting correction and redirection, and providing some encouragement to each other along the way.
I’m left to wonder why it worked today. I have no doubt that this activity could and would have caused quite a scene on another given day. Were all the planets finally properly aligned, all the teaching gods smiling down on us amiably? How am I to recreate the conditions under which these fragile and easily frustrated kids were able to take a risk and try something new and challenging?
I can’t deny that part of its success was the mood and availability of these particular kids at that particular time of day. After a long weekend, they were happy to be back at school, enjoyed being with us and the group, and generally had a positive attitude about being here. NO SMALL FEAT!! This generalized positive mood is something we work hard to establish and maintain through each day, in great measure by sweating through the tough job of talking, listening, setting firm boundaries, and creating a climate of trust.
And the fact that one of the group, Edgar, is a voracious reader and enjoys academic challenges also helps! His excitement is contagious, so if I can hook him, I have a good chance to motivate the others. The mix of admiration for this kid and a sense of competition was the tenuous blend that spurred the others’ on.
Finally, it was a gorgeous spring morning, one of those days that felt crisp and shiny new, and kids were motivated to finish their work so they could go outside for recess.
Yes, the teaching gods were smiling down on us today. Tonight I will send up a silent prayer of thanks, and offer up whatever it takes to get them to take up permanence residence in our ED classroom.
If only they could knock some sense into the problematic parents who too often work to sabotage our efforts.