Educating Rebels

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.

Cover of "To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Ann...

Cover via Amazon

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?



Filed under Education, Goals, Learning

2 responses to “Educating Rebels

  1. These pupils are playing the role of victim. In other words they are playing below the line. It is a common trait for those whose life does not match their expectations. They blame their neighbourhood, their parents, the “bitch” who is badmouthing them or whatever seems a likely focus blame. But they will never look at themselves as the source of their life’s struggles.

    It suits them to do this because since their life is a bucket of crap (in their mind), they need to find reasons, other then themselves, for their predicament. It’s a common mind state for the biggest majority of people. Their failure of course justifies their world-view, and who wants their world-view to be wrong, and so the pattern continues.

    I believe there are two parts to an answer for this problem. The first is to continue the praise that you provide when they do well (but of course no fake praise as they would see it for what it is) and constructive criticism when they fail. Failing is nothing but a part of the path to success IF we learn from it. The second is to ask them what they want from their life. What do they want their life to look like in 5 or 10 years from now?

    Secondly, once you have established first their quality work and then shown them how to grow from failure, you can then move on to how are they going to reach what they want from life and relate it to their pathway. Often a great place to start is to find what their ideal is and then look at the place they would be immediately BEFORE that point. Then what place they would be at before that and so on back to the present day. That way it can be seen as a process of easier steps to reach one after the other. In other words, a sequence of simple steps rather than an unachievable goal all at once. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic the goal may seem to you because the lesson is the process not the goal.

    One final thought, have a look at It is an amazing book that reveals how all our expectations and general world-view basics cause us to be in almost constant pain. It may not be an appropriate thing to talk about to young students but it will give you a perspective on how to handle these problems. It has become an indispensable read for me. The download is free and you have a choice of formats.

    Keep up your great work and never give up. You never know, and will probably never know just how you will affect their future. You are the stone making ripples in their pond of life.

  2. Pat,

    Thank you for taking so much time to help me. You are right about their view on the world. I am going to use your advice and have them write down where they want to be in 5 years. I will grade their latest writing on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. This will be the springboard for having them reexamine his chapter beginning with the end in mind. We will look at the steps needed to get to the end (5 years from now)…

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s