School started up again this past week. As a teacher, I always wonder what my students will be like:
Will they like my class?
Are there going to be kids that need more help than others?
And, possibly the most important question I can ask for my students: what kind of baggage do these kids come with that could hinder their growth, and how can I help them overcome it?
As a teacher in a poor, urban neighborhood school where students are reading three grades below level and come to school so they don’t have to be at home, there are many challenges to the students’ success. Certainly, this becomes evident with the kids that act out and/or have behavioral problems. Many of them do it because they have a hard time NOT acting out. Others, I feel, behave poorly as a way to not only get the attention they crave, but as a coping mechanism to deal with their poor academic ability. Then, there are those small few students that are academically capable and don’t have behavioral problems, but often slip into the shadows because most of the teacher’s attention is on the negative behavior.
After reading the book “Whale Done!: The Power of Positive Relationships” and “The Whale Done School: Transforming a School’s Culture by Catching Students Doing Things Right”, I made an effort to start doing two things: openly praise the students that were on task and had even the smallest success, and extend a helping hand with students behaving poorly, instead of “cracking down on them”. Doing this, I’ve noticed that, with the former group, they showed an immense amout of pride and satisfaction… possibly more than they have before. With the latter group, I am (hopefully) teaching them that they are capable doing well and can accomplish great things.
If I’m going to be completely honest, this is a big change for me, too. I have always been of the mind that poor behavior needed to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. In trying to find the balance of managing poor behavior in the classroom while lifting the students, I have learned that there is much truth to the old adage, “it’s easier to attract flies with honey than vinegar”.
It’s too early to tell what the long-lasting effects of these acts will be, but I am optimistic. Can what I’m doing fall under “acts of kindness”? I whole-hardheartedly believe so… in these kids’ worlds, where their free school breakfast and lunch may be the only meals some of them get that day, the smallest token of love and appreciation can have a profound effect. Hopefully, more teachers will continue to do the same.