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Tough Students....

Quora Question: What qualities or behaviors do you consider to be "horrible" in a student as a teacher? Have you encountered any students with these qualities?

I’m not sure I’d use the word “horrible” but I would use the word “distressing.” If a student is exhibiting some really difficult behaviors then there is some serious issue going on and the student should be referred to counseling. Some students have a really tough situation at home (alcoholic or drug addicted parent or parents, abuse, etc..). Happy, well-loved, well-adjusted students that have been taught ethics, morals and good citizenship typically do not exhibit “horrible” behaviors because they have a better outlook on life. An exception to this is If a student’s home life is solid and supportive but they have some medical issue that affects their behavior. This information should be in a student’s record and the teacher will be aware of this through the Individual Education Plan (IEP). The teacher will also meet with the IEP team to help determine how to best handle the behaviors.

Some difficult behaviors include outward displays of anger when there has been no trigger from the teacher or other students, withdrawal and not participating in even the most fun and interesting activities or clear emotional distress (crying, sobbing, etc..).

The outward displays of anger in my experience have been rare but when they did occur I’d take the student aside and ask them what is going on. This usually led to a short-term resolution during class with a long term follow up. For students that are withdrawn and not participating I ask them privately what is going on and that usually leads to on-site counseling. For emotional distress in class I’d give the student the option to take a bathroom break with a close friend (not a good time to be alone). This is often what they needed in the moment.

Here are a few examples of distressing behaviors from my classroom experience:

  1. I had a student that asked me if I wanted to hear his rap. I said, “Sure.” I always encourage creativity as a teacher, right? However, the lyrics in his rap were describing how he planned to kill all 7 of his teachers, including me. This was not what I expected to hear in his rap. When I looked in his eyes I realized that he looked “off.” He had a strange, unsettling stare that was clearly not O.K. When I calmly explained to him that I would have to report his rap to the office and to the counselor he became very angry, stared at me with a hard, focused, disturbing gaze and said, “You can’t do this to me. That would be my 3rd strike and I’ll be expelled.” I said, “I just did.” For the full story, read my book, “Wait, Don’t Quit,” written to encourage teachers to consider not quitting even if they have some tough situations to deal with like the one I just described.

2. I had a student that refused to do any work because he said that he had ADHD and his

mother said that he could color in class instead. I contacted his resource teachers and

they said that this was definitely not the case. He was totally capable of doing 9th grade

science. Especially in a classroom as active as mine (we did lots of hands-on

labs/activities). However, this student liked the idea of coloring and was not happy with

the idea of doing the work associated with his classes. One day when we were doing a

sheep brain dissection he decided to turn his entire table over. The heavy science

table crashing to the ground drew my attention as it made a huge sound. There

were sheep brains and formalin solution spreading out all over the floor. I could have

gotten really upset but I didn’t. I chose not to give him the attention he sought and calmly

turned around, looked at the situation and said, “Well, pick it up.” Then I quietly returned

to helping the students that I had been working with before he dumped his table. He was

SO disappointed because he did not get the reaction from me that he was hoping for. In

fact, none of the students gave him their attention. We all turned away and got back to

work. With no-one paying attention to him he picked up the table, cleaned it up and got

back to work. No coloring. He actually did his science work. I found this quite interesting.

Final Thought: There is always some reason behind a student’s distressing behavior. This does not mean that a teacher should accept misbehavior with no consequence. It means that finding out what the cause is and getting support from counselors and resource teachers, if applicable, will go a long way in reducing these behaviors.

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