As teachers we have all kinds of students. We have the ones that drive us absolutely bananas. The ones that know exactly what buttons to push at exactly what times. Sometimes they make us lose our temper, sometimes they make us want to scream, and sometimes they make us want to just flat out ignore them.
Those students exist in every school across the United States (and the Globe for that matter). I was one of those students. Many times I drove my teachers insane because of my constant chatter or because it was very difficult for me to stay in my seat.
When I was younger I was a much more social kid then I am today (I know hard to believe). Today I actually suffer quite heavily from social anxiety (but that’s for another post, haha). But when I was in elementary school I was in trouble all the time for blurting out, for talking to my neighbor, for yelling across the room, for interrupting or correcting my teacher, or for just mumbling to myself. I was always out of my seat. I was always sitting on my legs when I was supposed to be sitting on my behind. I leaned back in my chair, I passed notes, I did all those things that kids do now that drive even me insane!
But a part of that was me seeking attention. That was me begging for someone to notice me, for someone to care. For someone to invest something in me. And as I grew older and into Jr. High and High School my personality began to change, and I began to withdraw into myself. I learned how to disappear in some situations. I learned how to bury things. I learned how easily things are masked with a well placed smile.
And that’s where another type of student begins to pop up. When kids act out it’s because of a deeper issue than we can see on the surface. When kids are withdrawn, or inactive, or mean spirited, something much deeper is going on.
I’ve had those days where I think “I’ve had enough with this kid, I’ve tried everything and nothing is working”. And I hear my teacher friends tell me “Well you’ve done all you can, move on and focus on the kids you can reach”. And some days I actually believe I have done all I can to reach that “unreachable” child.
And then that little boy/girl walks through the door, and I see the pain the behind those little eyes. The pain I myself, associate so deeply with. And I see that child begging me not to give up on them. Begging me to keep trying, because they’re stuck in a situation they can’t see out of or how to ask for help. And I remember that adult in high school that asked me “Why do you always walk with your head down? Pick your head up, look out at people. Don’t disappear into the world. You have great things to offer, so don’t you dare walk with that head down staring at the ground.” It was blunt, but it left a lasting impact. And to this day when I find myself with my eyes looking at the ground, I remind myself to still pick my head up.
So I write this today, on behalf of all those “difficult” or withdrawn or hurting students. Those kids who are silently begging you, “Please don’t give up on me”. Those kids who feel their lives are out of their own control, or feel that no one notices them, or feel that they’re too far gone for anyone to truly love them.
And many of our students have become excellent at hiding it as well, so don’t make the mistake of assuming a smile means everything is ok. Take a little time out of each day to give a moment and “check in” on your students. To truly connect with them and provide them with, at the least, a listening ear.
Can we reach them all? Honestly, I don’t believe we can. But I’ll tell you one thing, I’m sure going to try.