Better for everyone

I used my relationship with a student the other day to try to change his behavior in someone else's class.

It's the first time I've done this explicitly. Sure, I've talked to kids before to try to get them to change things, and sometimes it's worked and sometimes it hasn't. It's a bit of a sensitive issue for some teachers, because what it means is that I have a better relationship with that student than they do, and I know a few of my colleagues feel sort of bad about that, and I try to be careful with that. I go to other teachers for help when I know a kid who performs well for them is being a pain for me, but since relationships are one of my strong points, it doesn't happen with every teacher. And so I try to step in only if it's a kid I'm actively mentoring, or if a teacher requests the help.

This one was both. My pal Sweet Child o' Mine is hugely obnoxious in one of his electives. He doesn't like the class, he doesn't like the teacher, and it's the last period of the day so he's just kinda done anyway.

The teacher is in her first year. She tries really hard and she cares about the kids and their success, but she's new and she's struggling with her classroom management and her student interactions, and it's been a tough year for her.

A while ago, she asked me for help. I'm on my building's leadership team because I facilitate our PBS stuff, and she asked to come observe one of my classes and if I'd observe hers. She observed me and I observed her other 8th grade class and offered some thoughts, but I haven't done the one with SCoM yet.

Apparently Wednesday he was terrible. Rude, refused to work, disruptive to other students (with whom he is friends, but still). Thus Thursday he was supposed to go to her for detention. He went to my room instead.

She asked me if she could go get him (I was still in the cafeteria talking to a colleague) and I said of course.

It didn't go well.

When she told him to go, apparently he said, "When I'm finished eating." She doesn't have the power to compel him to go because he doesn't respect her, and I don't think she knew what to do, and she came back to the cafeteria practically in tears because of it. And I felt so bad for her.

I tried to help. Did she want me to send him down? No, because now she needed time to plan (and I think she didn't want to deal with him after that, for which I don't blame her). Did she want me to come down during his class and the three of us could talk? No...she wasn't sure if she'd have time when the other kids were working independently enough to step outside. Did she want me to come down at the end of the day and we could talk then? No to that too. She just needed some time to think. I said of course, and that's when I offered to use the relationship. I told her he wouldn't be coming to my room for lunch until his behavior improved in her class. She said okay, but I don't think she thought it would make a difference; nothing else has.

When I got back to my room, I pulled SCoM out to the hall. "SCoM, do you treat me with respect?" He said yeah. "Do you treat every teacher with respect?" Yeah again. I persisted. "Do you treat Ms. Elective with respect?"


"Right. But not always. Did you treat her with respect when she came up just now?"

"I just asked if I could wait till I was finished eating."

"Did you ASK her or did you TELL her?"

He thought briefly. "I think I asked....I don't know."

"Should you have asked or should you have just gone?"

"...I should've gone."

"Yup." I looked at him. "SCoM, you like eating lunch in my room, right? You like that I help you with your work? You like that I give you snacks?" He nodded to each. "As of right now, all that's done. Because right now I don't respect YOU." SCoM looked surprised, but I continued. "I don't respect someone who would be as rude to another human being as you are to her. You treat her badly, and I don't want to be friends with someone who would do that to someone else. So until your behavior in her class changes to be the type of student I know you can be, you and I are not friends. Understood?" He nodded again. "Do you know what I'm talking about? Do you know the problems with your behavior and what you need to do differently?"

"Yeah. I know."

"Then do it." I went back into the room, feeling kind of terrible. I don't like doing this kind of stuff, but no other consequences seem to matter to him (including referrals, detentions, suspensions....), and maybe this one would. He shuffled back in after me. We had maybe a minute left before lunch was over. When the bell rang, I told him to go to class and not be late (he's also tardy to his classes all the time). He nodded, smiling. I added that I didn't think it was funny to be late all the time, and he protested that he didn't either, and stopped smiling. He left, and I went about my business for the next two hours.

After school, he came back to my room. "Ms. Teachin', I was good in class today."

"Really good or just a little better?"

"Really good."

"Okay, SCoM. I'm glad to hear that. I'll check in with Ms. Elective to see if that's true." I smiled at him, and he smiled back and left.

When I checked, it was true; she said that his behavior was enough better that she'd be happy if it was that way every day.

This gives me some ideas for how to change things at my school which I'm mulling over now; I'll post about them eventually. But for now, I'm just glad that the situation's better for everyone involved.

(Image credit to Eye of Einstein)


"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
Copyright 2009 I'm a Dreamer All rights reserved.
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