In ten years of teaching, I’ve come across a student or two whose attitude and behavior made it more challenging to enjoy their presence within my classroom. Most teachers and students who know me won’t believe this, but there have been numerous times over the years, where an individual’s behavior nearly tempted me to “go mental” as they say here in the UK or “throw hands” as my students sometimes say.
After nearly 4 weeks of visiting one of my host schools, most teachers in the science department seem pretty open with me regarding their honest opinions and thoughts about teaching and the students they teach. I’ve witnessed hard working students and some students who hardly work. The latter are the kind that can consume the greater part of a teacher’s thoughts, efforts, and energy. The teachers at my host school consistently demonstrate immense patience with student misbehavior, but occasionally some do what I’ve seen many teachers do over the years, they hit a breaking point and frustration gets the best of them. If this happens, more often than not, the student completely disengages from the learning experience. It doesn’t take place because the teacher yells or “goes mental” on a student. Most times it’s just a simple quip or sarcastic remark that carries a sharp jab with it. Rarely do teachers lose insult wars, but when they win, they typically lose the student. Sadly, they often lose the student’s respect forever.
I’ve heard students and teachers in both the US and the UK talk about how they don’t feel like they are respected as they should be by the other. I get it, “to get respect you’ve got to give it” – but sadly, I’ve all too often seen teachers and students perpetually loathe each other while waiting for the other to show the first display of respect. It’s happened to me too.
More often than not, I’ve tried to be the “bigger man” whenever I sensed that a student didn’t seem to like or respect me very much. It’s not easy. Most times, my efforts to remain consistent in demonstrating love and respect to students pays off with some form of reciprocity. Occasionally, I get a student who simply seems bent on negativity towards me and all that I represent as a teacher. Weeks and months of no demonstration of respect or appreciation from a student can be ridiculously frustrating. It comes quite naturally to give up or go off on them for not showing any respect. So what’s the most effective way that I think that a teacher can reach a student like that? Keep loving them…
No matter how hard it is, I believe that consistently caring for and loving the unloving is the most effective way in which teachers can connect with students who come in with a “chip on their shoulder.” When a “difficult to reach” student finally reciprocates some form of respect or interest, it’s not always done within the year that they are assigned to the teacher. I’ve had students who never appeared to care about the subject or myself come back years later to tell me that they appreciated my consistent actions of kindness toward them in spite of their apathy or purported disdain for me or the subject. Teachers must remember that a student’s expression of appreciation towards them is often a reflection of the appreciation that they have been shown by other teachers and authority figures in their own lives. Whether here in the UK or back in the US, a teacher might be one of the few people in a student’s life to demonstrate any form of unconditional kindness or love.