What happens when a student does not want to do the work? I wish I knew one answer! Instead, I, like every other teacher, try to find the solution to the enigma with each particular student.
Students come to school carrying book-bags and personal baggage. They come from troubled homes, like Pony Boy and the other greasers in S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. They come from homes where illness strikes, like the children of Randy Paush, who gave The Last Lecture on September 18, 2007. They come from homes with single parents; however, not all are like Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. They come from everywhere.
The truth is that we all have baggage. However, some students’ baggage consumes their thoughts. It prevents them from doing work at home and school. It preoccupies their minds when they are supposed to be writing or reading. These distractions may have been happening for years, and now the student is struggling because she reads below grade level.
Every teacher faces these students. We try to make a connection. We try to find ways to encourage, teach, and show we care. I am struggling more this year, and I cannot put my finger on a solution that will work everyday.
I have three girls, good friends from the same neighborhood, and who moved into our community a few years ago. They use to live in an urban environment that to be called rough would be an understatement.
Each day, right before the tardy bell rings, they saunter into class complaining about something or someone. I believe that they are creating their own drama, but I know they are not getting a lot of parental support. Their grades reflect this.
I spent the first few weeks encouraging them to complete assignments, and point out the positives in their writing. Nonetheless, I still got negative feedback in the form of sighs, rolled eyes, and “Tsk!” I could not allow the rude behavior, so I gave them detentions.
This worked to stop the behavior in class, but it seemed to cause two of the girls to stop doing assignments. It seemed they wanted to punish me by failing. I never understand this line of thinking. If I disliked my English teacher, I would write a five-page essay when he asks for a three pages. I would make him read a little more every time, so he has to spend more time grading.
Now, I face the dilemma of spending a great amount of time and energy on two rebellious students while ignoring 26 students who are trying their best to learn. How can I reel in the rebels and challenge everyone to push strive for success?
What I have done that seems to be working for now…
- When the girls enter, I whisper to them about what we are doing today and remind them about my expectations, even though it is written on the board.
- I have them seated away from each other.
- If they are not working, I give them a nonverbal reminder by walking up to their desk and motioning for them to be reading or writing.
- I do not engage in a conversation; I walk away. I have found if I stay near the student, she will become stubborn and try to show me who is boss.
- If she does not get started working after I leave, I walk to my desk and fill out the paperwork for a detention. Then, I look up to see if she is working yet. If she is, I don’t deliver the detention. I save it in case she gets off task later.
I have nearly given up on changing the girls’ negative attitudes. However, every few days, one of them contributes to the class discussion or does well on a writing assignment we completed in class. Then, I am reminded that they have developed their negativity over years, and I may not be able to change it during the 225 minutes a week I see them.
Do you have any other ideas?
- September State of Mind: Revisiting Your Goals (teacherpop.org)
- 6 Tips To Help You Be A More Effective Teacher (delaney.typepad.com)