Imagine receiving a blank canvas and set of watercolors, complete with brushes. You will be evaluated and graded by the images you create but have no guidelines whatsoever. And you have only a few hours to produce your masterpiece. This is the opportunity I face.
Some days, in some times, some students will simply refuse to behave properly and cooperate. Last week was one of those days. The student was flagged by the teacher as someone with a behavior chart and for the three hours I was in her presence she never failed to live down to those expectations. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t alert her to the fact that I knew she was flagged.
If we educators feel that we have superpowers to modify the way students operate, we don’t. Problem students often bring their unique problems to school, primarily because there is no alternative. Most of the time, the regular teachers know those issues, but I rarely do.
Happily, several situations spontaneously materialize. Classmates will elaborate on the habits of Problem Student Girl, wanting to explain her actions without ever justifying them. Sometimes, because Problem Student Girl has no traction with me, she’ll modify her attitude. In the worst cases, I will enlist one of the behavior modification tools that were left for me. These include loss of recess, moving her clip to the area on a board that is labeled “poor choices,” or a recommendation to call her home.
It’s never personal. There are most likely no steps that I could have taken differently for Problem Student Girl to be Model Child. All of the other students will observe how I respond to her, maybe to see what they can do to disrupt. More often, they overperform and overconform, as if to compensate for her.
.One choice is to leave the canvas untouched. Another is to glance at the works of others (proved there are others) for some ideas. The best option will always be to create from the heart. If you love trees, paint trees. If you love animals, draw animals. No matter what you select, it must be sincere and the best image you can illustrate. In this case, patience and a display of concern will usually work.
This is my responsibility as a conscientious educator. While I probably don’t have many options to create large impressions, my assumption is that any one of them can be lasting. Our kids (ideally) get only one shot at kindergarten, fourth or any other grade. As the artist or facilitator or counselor or whatever title I attach to myself, I must deliver the same care to Problem Student Girl as I do to any other student. As the day ends, I hope that the image I present to her is as unique as her needs. Shalom.