by Lisa Gusewelle, Member-at-Large for NDCTE Connected Newsletter, Oct. 2019
Each year that we teach, we hope that we have moved past last year's problems and are smarter, tougher, and awesomer. What we usually realize is that while we may know our material and our schedule a bit better there will always be challenges that will test just how smart, how tough, and how awesome we really are. Perhaps nothing may test a teacher's constitution than a student who finds the teacher to be the dumbest, weakest, and lamest of all people that they have ever met in their life.
Some ways that a student may cut a teacher down:
1. Play "the dum-dum." Teachers are often too afraid of looking dumb, which is unfortunate as this can be our greatest relationship- building tool and academic strategy. Students already realize that we are smart, so don't worry about them mistaking you for being an actual dum-dum. The aim of playing "the dum-dum" is to put our students in position to feel smart. Many lesson plans make sure to include reading, writing, speaking, and listening, but most unit plans do not include a time to make students feel like winners or like geniuses. Whenever I complete my version of student projects, I always make glaring (often hilarious) mistakes in mine. What my mistake-ridden project says to students is "here is a project that you can easily do better than, and here are some not-to-dos to make your project better than mine."
2. Be a sportscaster. Acknowledge your students' actions by narrating their actions and feelings like an announcer and sportscaster.
Example: Student says, "This is dumb." Teacher responds, "You think that this is dumb." Students says, "Yeah, I'm not going to be able to finish it, and I have a game tonight." Teacher responds, "You're worried that you won't have enough time."
3. Give your students a time-in. Want to know why one-on-one reading conferences are the most rewarding part of your students' school day? You're gifting them and only them your time and attention and it matters even if it is only 1- or 3-minutes in length.
4. Access the students' conscious need to be good by going through the side door. My elementary students rarely do well their first time doing something. Sometimes they're spectacularly awful! One way to improve is by doing a Jeffrey Wilhelm "Notice & Note." Observe what you saw that was good and add a "because" statement. For example, I might say, "I really liked when [student] asked why. She could have responded by ignoring her and repeating back her own thoughts, which some students did do, but instead, she took interest in an opinion different than hers and made the conversation better." Then, provide all students an extra opportunity to do better.
Another way to go through the side door is by giving your students an opportunity to role-play the negative behavior.
Example: Teacher says, "You're with someone who is not working with you on your project. What would you say to them? Let's do a think-pair-share. All right, let's share out on what we might say." After discussion, the teacher will select two students based on their responses to the prompt. One role will be the student who wants to work together and the other role will be the student who is being unhelpful. Play out the scene and then ask the class what they observed and if the discussion would be helpful in future situations.
*I have also seen the above done with Barbies, which sounds so silly, but was actually AMAZING! It allowed the students to focus more on how to respond to the situation rather than what their peers were thinking of them in the role play.
5. Let your students catch you gossiping about them, and let it be good gossip! If you're really struggling, think of what maybe drives you the craziest about the student.
Example: Teacher says to parent on phone, "I love your student's energy. He is so much fun. I can see why his classmates like him. I dislike having to tell him to get in his seat so often because he is a really great kid."
6. Practice patience-stretching. Our most attention-seeking students struggle badly with patience. When a student is constantly bouncing up and down in your face and is speaking loudly, a teacher's blood pressure soars. Set a timer for 1, 2, or 3 minutes, and say, "I really want to hear what you have to say, but I am busy right now. I will give you my full attention as soon as this timer goes off." Make sure that when the timer does go off that you do allow the student to have your attention. If they continue talking during the hold time, have them do their patience stretching outside of the classroom, but keep the timer yourself in case a student wants to give themselves an extended break.
Please remember when you are teaching THAT student that even though they make your day more challenging and even though they will never give you a card that reads "Your the best teacher ever," they are your student, not the principal's, not the office secretary's, but yours. Sure they may be smelly, whiney, consistently on the ineligible list, and no one else wants them, but THAT student is yours.
More importantly, success or failure with THAT student does not take away from the fact that you are the smartest, toughest, most awesome teacher in the room. And, I really and truly believe in you.