Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
~ C. S. Lewis
We have all had them in class, or seen them in the office. They challenge our authority, push the limits of acceptable behavior, try our patience and are actively (or passively) defiant. These kids are referred to as “at-risk”, apathetic, frequent fliers, passive-agressive, trouble makers and many other names that would change the rating of this blog from “G” to “R”. Their affect ranges from “off the wall”, to “absence of emotion”, and while they represent an extremely diverse range of personalities and behaviors, they all have at least one thing in common: they test our ability as educators to be caring and compassionate. Most of us would be hesitant to admit it, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can probably think of at least one student that we struggle to “like.”
There are any number of reasons that students behave in this manner. It may be problems at home, lack of appropriate modeling, abuse, repeated disappointments, poor self-esteem, attention deficit, lack of adequate attention, or a multitude of other issues. That being said, there is good to be found in any student–they do not behave this way because they are inherently evil. They behave this way because something is missing, and as educators, we are privileged to have opportunities every day to fill the gap. Like it or not, this may be every bit as critical to the impact we will have on students as teaching our curriculum.
As you begin the week, I would challenge you to show a soft heart for your challenging students. It isn’t easy, but pick at least one student and begin chipping away at their protective defenses. Do it with encouragement, praise, a kind word, empathy and high expectations. The key is consistency–don’t give up. In order for kids to accept that someone cares for them, they have to drop their defenses–become vulnerable. Many challenging students have spent years putting up protective barriers, it will take time to bring them down. It is entirely possible that you will work tirelessly to make a difference in a child’s life and not see tangible results for your efforts, but all it takes is a spark to begin a raging fire. Improve the odds: create as many sparks as possible.