Oh, dear friend, it’s been awhile since you’ve heard from me, huh? I love my job, but do you want to know a secret? I’ve been very tried, and quite frankly, very uninspired to write, for the past couple of months. This year has been a doozy so far.
Please don’t get me wrong. I adore my career. And, I adore each and every one of my students. But, sometimes, students demonstrating challenging behavior can quickly put a damper on the day.
When I chose teaching as my career, I wasn’t ignorant about the fact that I would have some students with challenging behaviors. What I was ignorant about, though, was thinking that I’d be able to be official Mrs. Super Woman and make these challenging behaviors go away. I thought, sure, a kid might show challenging behavior coming into my classroom, but when they leave, they will be changed! Say sayonara to problems and hello to the new you!
This year has been a bit of a slap in the face to that sweet, yet ignorant, theory. I’m going to share 5 myths about kids with challenging behavior, to help you regain a realistic viewpoint.
Myth #1: I can solve all of my students’ problems. Some students present challenging behavior because of education-related issues, such as being held to a much higher learning-level than they are capable of doing. Usually, we as teachers, are quick to spot these situations and advocate for students to get the supports or accommodations that they need. I will argue, then, that many of the challenging behaviors that continue will be from students who come into your classroom with emotional experience or even some kind of trauma. Some of these students are still going through really hard times at home. You will lay up at night worrying about your kids. And, when you go in the next day, you still might not be able to truly be what they need. Teachers have big hearts, and caring for students goes far beyond the walls of your classroom. On the flip side, our students are also experiencing life that extends beyond the walls of our classroom, too. We can’t expect children to be able to turn off whatever is happening at home during the school day. And as much as we’d give anything to do so, we sometimes can’t solve what is going on at home or what happened in the past.
Myth #2: Tough kids just need a tough behavior management program. I believed that when kids acted up, it was because no one ever “laid down the law,” so to speak. I do really believe that kids need consequences for their actions, and that this will assist in helping them learn, but discipline simply isn’t a cut and paste process. Just like students need differentiation in their learning of core subjects, they need differentiation when they are learning how to behave, too. And, as much as you want to lose it on them in the moment, or impose harsh consequences, not all students will change their behavior just because they sit in lunch detention for one day. Discipline should be one piece of solving a greater problem. Conversations are important. These conversations shouldn’t just be one-way. As adults, we think we know everything and that we can just tell students what to do and how to act. We need to actually hear from the students, though, to understand what is setting them off or what is preventing them from being their best self in order to help them through it.
Myth #3: I will be provided information about my kids’ home lives so I know how to help them. Due to privacy laws, you won’t learn much about the students who are crying out for help. Having good communication with parents and guardians when possible is extremely helpful, as they might provide insight to the home situation, but counselors and administration are usually not allowed to share much, if any, private information. This can be frustrating, as you would like to know these situations to help you in the classroom, but sometimes you just have to do your best for them without knowing many details.
Myth #4: Students will be able to trust me. As much as you think you are trustworthy, some students assume all adults, especially teachers, are out to get them. I attribute this back to a failed #2, because if no one is investing in teaching the kids how to behave, and is instead simply giving them harsh punishments, (or worse, just having meaningless conversations with them and not trying to learn about their take on the situations) kids will continue being referred to the office, or getting negative communication home, and will see you as their enemy. Everyday, I have to work very hard to convince some of my students that I’m on their team, I’m not trying to “get them in trouble,” and that what happened in someone else’s class has no bearing over how I will interact with them today. Saying these things is one thing, but kids are quick to catch on to actions; be sure to show students that this is true. And, as loving and trustworthy as you might be, winning them over might not stick from one day to another. You might have to continually prove this to your students.
Myth #5: I will have control over my classroom, and one student can’t change that. One student can change your entire classroom–for better or for worse. I view myself as a strong, influential teacher, and yet, I will admit, that I have a couple students this year who can really change my classroom environment before I can even blink. I have to work very hard to remain the person that the kids want to follow, as opposed to the student who is acting out. On the flip side, I’ve also had classrooms so incredibly enhanced by a student in a class period, who made the environment better than I could have on my own.
All of these myths can feel extremely overwhelming. There’s not a solution that will work with every kid. But, with time and effort, there are solutions that can greatly impact the child. Each day is a process, and as soon as you think you’re “winning,” you might take 3 steps back again. But, keep trying. We have to do our best for them. We owe it to them. Please don’t think I’m saying that kids that are showing challenging behaviors are doomed by any means, or that you don’t have the ability to affect them. Sweet teacher, you can absolutely change a child’s behaviors, and you can affect their life. We wouldn’t do this career if we couldn’t. I do want to emphasize, though, that not all behaviors can just “poof” out of existence in a day. I used to believe that any child would be happy when they saw my happy smile, greeting them at the door. I’m finding this year that it just isn’t always that easy. It does, in fact, tend to take some time. It takes hard work. It takes caring, building connections with them, and if working in middle school, team work. It takes letting the kids see that you’re a human who cares for them. I found myself yesterday talking with a student about ear piercings, Shaq, and baking. We had a good day! I cross my fingers that we can pick up where we left off tomorrow.
Last note I want to add is to please keep in mind that this article was written about challenging behaviors, not challenging students. Believe in your students, and let them know that you don’t like their behavior. I often tell my kids, “I really like you a lot. I really don’t like the behavior I just saw.” This small change can go a long way for your relationship with that child and their viewpoint of themselves.