Saturday, October 31, 2015

With a hand raised...


I had seen Ally coming my way for a couple of years. She was frequently the topic of conversation in the hallway and in the teacher break room. A troubled kid with a seemingly awful homelife. Disrespectful and defiant. Consequences didn't have much impact on changing her behavior choices. Ally once told her teacher to, "go ahead and take away recess, my mom will sue you."

She honed her foul mouthed vocabulary online and in person since getting her Facebook page at a much too young 4th grade. She didn't understand limits, because she didn't have any. She was frequently mean and used her meanness to get attention, any attention, that she almost pathologically craved. I talked to her a couple of times in her fourth grade classroom about the choices she was making online with some online interactions that were brought to my attention.

A couple of years before I had her as a student, I had coached her on our school's basketball team. She didn't have a clue to what she was doing and didn't contribute much to our run at the All-city finals, but she was trying. She'd get frustrated, I'd get frustrated, her team got frustrated at her, but I wouldn't let her feel or be on the receiving end of negative. She got too much of that elsewhere.

It wasn't until mid season that I learned how to talk to her. I was giving her pointers on some aspect of her play and I could see the tears start to form in her eyes and her body language was screaming, "let me outta here!" It was that moment that helped me a couple of years later when she was a student in my classroom.

That year, I had a "rough" group. A core of about 7-8 out of 30 that woke up each day and started their plans to disrupt the learning of their peers and get in the way of themselves during that day's lessons. Ally was one of the gang. Her quality of work was horrible. Rushed and minimal, her goal was to put something down on the page and call it done. Whenever she was called on , she would hide her head or shrug her shoulders and wait for me to move on. I tried waiting her out a couple of times, but we'd still be there if I'd stuck to my plan. She had formed her resolve through years of defiant practice.

Ally would get kicked out of specials, mix it up at recess, throw her books, and yell expletives at peers, subs, and other adults in the building. She engaged in behavior that got her suspended three times before Halloween. Never at me however and never in Room 216.

This was a girl in crisis though. I think that her life was chaos and I was certain that the part of her day when she was in Room 216 was the safest that she felt. Discovered by chance, I discovered an out of school incident early in the year that scared the hell out of me. The seriousness of the incident brought me to tears.

We tried to figure each other out over the first couple of months that year, but progress was slow.

Then one day, she raised her hand.

It was a turning point. I looked at her for a second and she looked back at me. We were the only ones in the room who knew what was happening. I called on her, she answered. She looked around to see if everything was okay. It was and she knew it. That raised hand was a big deal. For both of us.

We still had a ways to go and I'm not going to pretend that the rest of the year was dreamy, but we moved forward. She made progress and started to believe in herself a little bit. She learned that she could be in control, that she didn't always have to react or provoke.

She didn't need writeups for for having a hot chocolate on school grounds or chewing gum. She needed to trust someone. She didn't need behavior reports, she needed someone to believe in her.

I raised my hand.

Thanks for reading.
I'm on Twitter: @YourKidsTeacher

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