We all have that one student that needs a little bit more love… The one that really pushes our buttons. The one who we think about on evenings and weekends who we just don’t know how to reach. Well, this student for me last year was a seventh grader named Amanda. Amanda frequently walked right out of class, slammed her binder shut, shouted out at other students, and started drama with other students. She sulked often, called out, and refused to work. Every teacher dreaded the period that Amanda was in their class because the class was often unruly, and work rarely happened without interruption.
Despite her behavior, I always rooted for Amanda. I knew there was so much potential that she just hadn’t figured out how to harness. I tried to stay patient with her (even when it was difficult and she shouted at me or slammed my classroom door on her way out) and always checked in with her after we’d had a rough run-in. Day after day, it was tough, grueling work. I often went home exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed in the lack of growth I was seeing.
This year, I had the pleasure of moving up to eighth grade with last year’s students, including Amanda. We all had a wonderful summer break full of visiting with friends and family, relaxing by the pool, trips to the beach… (Deep breath, teachers– we’re almost at that time again!) And when we returned, Amanda was like a different student. During the first few days of school, she politely raised her hand when she had a question. She sat up straight. When working with a group, she used an appropriate voice level and actually stayed on task. I was shocked.
Since then, I often forget that Amanda acted the way she did last year. Perhaps she needed the summer to grow up a bit. Maybe her mom really came down hard on her and reminded her of why she was in school this past September. Maybe she made a new group of friends who are a better influence on her. Whatever the reason, the new Amanda is responsible for her actions, works hard to manage her emotions, and perseveres even when she is having trouble.
Last week, during a chance to talk about her independent reading novel, Amanda discussed one of her characters’ tendencies to disrespect his teachers. She said, “It makes me mad when I read about the things he says to his teachers because he doesn’t realize all that his teachers do for him. I used to be like that, but I’m so glad I know better.” And then she looked at me and said, “I’m so grateful for all that you guys do for us.”
To all of you struggling to connect with that child who seems to not want to improve, you are making a difference. Even if you feel like your hard work goes unnoticed, your kids will get there eventually– and it will all be thanks to your persistence. Keep doing the good work!
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.