We have all had those students that have, for whatever reason, cause immense amounts of stress, emotional heartache, the sweats, and quite possibly hives. These students often act out in class, are insubordinate, don't contribute to conversations in a positive manner, or attract negative attention. THOSE students. I remember having a class of 6th graders that caused me so much anxiety that I would almost get sick to my stomach 5 minutes before the bell would ring. THOSE students, that you silently think, "thank god, they are not here today...." THOSE students.
Look, I am not a perfect human being. I am not a perfect teacher by any means and I have made my fair share of mistakes, but I have done a lot of thinking about these students and their role in my growth as a teacher. It would be naive to think that these students don't have a lot of baggage when coming to school. Baggage that we think they should leave at the door so they can focus on learning. However, for these students, that is heavy baggage that they just can't drop off-some of these students are dealing with some serious issues that go well beyond my understanding and my experiences. These are the students that need the most love from us. These are the students that need a caring relationship with an adult. Please allow me to clarify here-we are not here to "SAVE THE CHILDREN." No, this is not our role as teachers and puts us in a position of power that can not be exchanged. Rather, our role is to meet the child where they are at, and not give up. We cannot give up on these young people.
I have a new set of students this semester and of course, every class has a unique dynamic. One young lady comes to my class late every.single.day. She is defiant, she puts on a attitude that she doesn't care, she rolls her eyes at me, and just tosses my words aside. She struggles with most of her teachers. The young lady is a freshman and I don't know enough about her to understand what has caused this child to have such a negative life view. I have been struggling with how to connect with her and I and shared this with her yesterday. She responded with "Why do you want to connect with me? I don't care about you." That stung and caused me to have a nightmare last night. Today, I sat right by her and worked with her on the song "De Colores". I sat with her for 15 minutes (with 20 other students in room-who were all just happy as clams strumming and playing their melodies). I sat with her and told her that what she was doing was good work. When we were done, I looked at her and firmly shared with her "I will not give up on you." I looked at her again and said, "I will not give up on you."
I think, in my mind, I was saying that to her, but I was also saying that to myself. So often, we work with these students. They are frustrating and we wonder what went wrong with the student. But if we dig deeper, can we ourselves work harder to build a connection, even if a fraction of a connection. If these students see us believing in them, they might start to believe in themselves as well.
The hardest students to reach can be some of our best teachers. They will test us to limits of emotional and mental stress, but I firmly believe that we can learn and grow so much as educators. While I would not wish for a class of students like the one I described, I do know that I have re-committed myself to showing and demonstrating compassion for all of my students, and not giving up on them, or myself.