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That Special Someone

A student in our school is smart, funny, talented, and has made himself an expert in a particular period of history. You'd think every teacher would love to have him in her/his class. The reality is that he is also rude, sarcastic and vindictive. He can destroy a lesson within minutes. I have seen teachers reduced to tears. He has made me feel that way, too. When we meet with staff to find a solution, I noticed that his homeroom teacher usually says that he doesn't always act that way, at least not with him or her. In fact, this is true. He seems to choose one person, and logically that is the person he spends most of the day with, to behave normally. He does most of his work, participates in most class discussions, contributes in partner and group work. There is psychological baggage. Most teachers are not privy to his background, and not being his teacher, only see him as "trouble". However, you don't have to be in teaching for long, to realize that students do not behave terribly without something that is a trigger. So, schools are not treatment centers, and this boy needs help. His teachers have conferences with the parent, and pull in as much resource help as is available. But, his problems are not going to go away overnight. So how does the school manage the behavior? First, the relationship with his homeroom teacher is key. Everything is done to keep the lines of communication open, the standards for behavior high for the whole class, with respectful dialogue, even when he has tested the limits. Don't let the anger show. Insist on repeating the expectations of behavior. Our administration has provided a space where he must go when he has overstepped the line, or disrupted the class. This time away from his own class is for the rest of the day, including lunch, breaks, and unfortunately physical education. It may include a meeting with parent and student. This consequence has to be repeated frequently, and eventually this may also include a suspension. We are lucky to have an administrator who is willing to enforce this. However, the key point is that every teacher still welcomes him back, and tries to build a relationship with him, especially when he makes the overture first. For instance, I had been away for couple of months, and when he saw me in the hall, he said hello. I smiled and said, "Good to see you!" But, I also walked on, because I know that that was the limit of his friendliness, and if I had stopped to talk longer, he would have made some negative remark. And, I would have had to follow up with that. Short, positive interactions is all he can handle. I am not his "safe" person, and until he is ready for that I have to take what I can--keep it short and positive. It took a while to form his negative behavior; he cannot relearn positive patterns of behavior overnight. And, I am lucky to work with teachers who understand that, forgive and play their role. It isn't easy, but it is our job.