Here are some thoughts on the interactions between teachers and students .. Most of us can remember how we felt at some point when a teacher either ignited a fire inside of us or made us feel inept.
Adults in the classroom never have the luxury of being neutral. Everything you say or do is either building a bridge or building a wall. Seems like a lot of pressure, I know – but teachers (by which I mean all adults in a classroom, since the kids are learning from all of the adults) are the most powerful people in the room.
Sometimes teachers can feel powerless when faced with apathy, disrespect, and other assorted expressions of negativity in the classroom – but it is really important to remember that you hold at least 2 types of power at all times: “official power”, because you ultimately have the final say on what happens in the classroom (how rules are enforced, who sits where, who gets to talk, what lessons and activities will happen, etc) and “perceived” power, because most of the students are under the general assumption that you are in charge here (if you don’t believe this – watch their eyes when something goes wrong – they all will look to you to see how you react and to find out if everything will be OK). You can also develop “social” power when the students see you as the person who makes sure that everyone feels respected, safe, and cared about.
All this rambling about power is just a reminder that – even on the toughest day – you have what it takes to make or break a student’s experience at school. They watch your face and your body language, they hear every twinge in your voice, and they look to you to provide an example of how a smart, capable adult handles stress and surprise and joy and etc….
Here are some strategies (habits of heart and mind) to help build bridges:
1. Speak to students as though their parents are in the room with you.
2. Notice something great about an angry disaffected student and bring it to his or her attention in a meaningful way.
3. “Creative Visualization” to help create compassion when you can’t feel it in the moment: Picture a big, angry student as the 3-year-old he once was … picture him “playing school”, watching the school bus go by, and getting excited about someday going to big-kid school. Then picture him in Kindergarten – running open-heartedly into the classroom, only to learn very quickly that he didn’t fit in there (his “walking feet” were “running feet”, for instance, and his “listening ears” didn’t work well; his circles were not round and didn’t sit well on the line).
4. Learn the secret language of the disaffected learner: “This is stupid” means “I don’t understand this”. “I don’t care what you say” means “I still have to figure out if you’re for real or not”. “I can’t do this” means “I feel like I can’t do anything, so why bother trying and looking stupid again?” “No” means “Not until I get some need met”. “You can’t make me!” means “I need to feel in control of something because I feel powerless.”
5. Remember that when students exhibit challenging behaviors, they are usually trying to mask their fear of rejection or of looking / feeling inept.