Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Second Chance?

I would be the first to admit that I was probably not the most enjoyable student to have in class. I was probably a hand full for most of my teachers. I remember once I decided to give a substitute teacher a rough time so I started coughing. I was in high school and I coughed so much for this poor sub that finally he looked at me and told me to take the rest of the period off. I wasn't going to get in trouble but I wasn't going to have to stay in class either.

Despite my behavior there were times when I decided to behave better. For example, I vividly remember a conversation with my fourth grade teacher in which he asked me why I consistently misbehaved. I answered that I wanted the other students to think that I was cool. He explained that there were other students in the class who had a lot of friends who behaved very well. I told him that I would try to behave better. I seriously intended to behave better. But the next day in music the class became a little rambunctious. It was simply too easy for me to join in the fun. (Maybe even lead the fun.) I'll never forget the look on my homeroom teacher's face when he came to pick us up. The music teacher told him that several of us had misbehaved. Of course, my name was mentioned. He was truly disappointed and did not feel as if the conversation that we had had the day before meant anything to me. Of course, since I remember this conversation thirty years later, it certainly meant something to me. I wanted to behave better but my impulses got the better of me. The teacher did not believe me when I told him that the conversation had meant something to me.

As educators, how many of us have experienced something similar with out students? We have a serious conversation with them about study habits or behavior and the next day they seem to ignore everything that we have said. The truth is, however, that as teachers we cannot really know how our students thought about what we said. We need to realize that as children sometimes students do things that they do not mean to do. If adults can do this, can't students do the same thing? We need to give our students a second chance, even a fifth or a sixth chance.

Several years later, a teacher of mine told the class that he would give us extra-credit if we wrote essays describing the way that we thought about what we were learning in his class. I decided to take the teacher up on this offer. At the end of each class the teacher asked us to write a short paragraph presenting our opinions on the topic under discussion. I specifically mentioned in my extra credit writing that I enjoyed these brief thought pieces. I enjoyed the reflection. However, a few days later a couple of the students in my class were grumbling that they did not want to write the thought pieces. I agreed that I didn't want to write the thought paper. The teacher looked at me and said, "But, you wrote that you liked these thought papers." He was putting me on the spot in front of my classmates. I responded, "I needed to write something to get the extra credit. I didn't really mean it." He looked at me and said, "Then you don't really get the extra credit." I remember feeling very disappointed. In reality I did like these thought pieces, in general. I just didn't enjoy settling down enough to write them, particularly at the moment that I had to settle down.

How often as educators do we have students say one thing even if they mean something else? As teachers it is important to not only think about what students say but also what students mean. It is important to consider why students say what they say. It is important for us to let our students know that we care what they have to say. We should let our students know that we recognize that feelings and emotions can change. I certainly didn't feel listened to by this teacher.

One more quick story:

One day in high school I became very upset with my chemistry teacher. I felt that she graded a test incorrectly. (I had a terrible temper that I have since learned to control.) My chemistry teacher claimed that I told her to "Go to hell." I didn't acknowledge that I said this or believe that I said this, but she insisted that I did. (Since I was highly emotional and she wasn't let's take her word for it.) Considering that I went to a religious prep school I certainly could have been thrown out of the school. But instead the dean of students, with the chemistry teacher's ascent, restricted me and made me complete a "pink sheet." This meant that for two weeks I had to carry this sheet around and have every teacher sign it saying that I behaved in class. (Of course, I also apologized to the chemistry teacher.) If a teacher had refused to sign this sheet, I would have been expelled. I successfully worked myself off of restriction.

The point is that my high school faculty understood that as a teenager I needed a second chance. They didn't hesitate to give me one. I went on to graduate from high school on national honor society. The faculty's decision could certainly have altered my life. (Would I have been accepted to Columbia if I had not been given a second chance in high school?)

The next time you are interacting with a student give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Remember that youth are not adults. The purpose of being a student is to learn, not just academic lessons but life lessons. If you are too quick to dismiss students it is likely that the life lessons will not be learned.

1 comment:

  1. "The next time you are interacting with a student give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Remember that youth are not adults. The purpose of being a student is to learn, not just academic lessons but life lessons. If you are too quick to dismiss students it is likely that the life lessons will not be learned."

    This is so very true and yet so very hard to actually implement while dealing with today's youth in the classroom. Especially when rambunctiousness is the very least of the problems we teachers face these days. Taking in your whole story, it is hard to imagine you throwing scissors at students while screaming your intent to poke someones eyes out, or squirting hand sanitizer in someone's face also screaming your intent to blind them (and i'm not speaking of just one student). Threatening lives of other students with specific weapons in mind, and this 2nd grade I'm speaking of... Are these kids for real?
    It's very hard to figure out which life lessons we can teach these kids when some of them go home and get the opposite shouted at them from parents who are too busy keeping the power on or who simply aren't involved.
    And what do you say to the rest of the kids in the class who are starting to view this type of behavior as "normal" because administration tells you to "ignore" it or "work around it"?

    I too was a "rambunctious" kid, with a principal as a father (go figure), which leads me to believe that not only was I destined for education, but also to lead the lost in the right direction. It would only be easier if it wasn't in a room filled with 23 other students. I've done the big city teaching thing now and I can say I did it with shock and awe LOL, but it's time for a change!