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“I Haven’t Been Feeling Very Respected….”

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I have a student (let’s call him “John”) who faces many learning, family, and behavioral challenges.

During this school year, I have put a great deal of effort into helping him succeed, including purchasing books of his own choosing to read, working with him to develop alternative assignments that would be more fun and accessible, and providing occasional snacks between classes.

He made great progress during the first six weeks of the school year, and was a delight to have in class. However, things began to go downhill dramatically at that time.

Two weeks ago, I asked him to go outside with me so we could have a private talk after he said something like “You don’t care about me and you just want to kick me out of class!”

This is what I said to him in a calm voice:

“I felt hurt by what you said.   I feel like I’ve bent over backward to support you and help you succeed (I then gave examples). I don’t need thanks, but I expect respect. And I haven’t been feeling very respected by you over the past few weeks. I will be a helpful and supportive teacher to you, as I am with all the students in my class. But I don’t feel like continuing to go the extra mile for someone who doesn’t show me respect. I want to emphasize that I will be a helpful and supportive teacher to you, but I’m just not going to continue to go the extra mile.”

He began to react negatively, but I quickly ended the conversation and we returned to class.

Since having that conversation, “John” has returned to being respectful and hardworking, and I have returned to “going the extra mile.”

Explaining to students how their words and actions affect us as teachers, and, in a caring but honest way, explaining that there are consequences for what they say and do, can be effective — if a teacher has developed a relationship with the student.  It can be a useful model for students to see, too, since who knows what kind of modeling they see in their home life.

I’m not pretending that this story offers some kind of extraordinarily unique insight, but it was an important learning experience for me, and I think, for “John,” too.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. The KEY, Larry, is the fact that you earned the right to tell “John” how you felt about his “accusation” and behavior toward you.

    As you said, “if a teacher has developed a relationship with the student,” demonstrates that your previous extra mile walks enabled you to earn the right to be heard by John (not just listened to). He heard you, and responded the way he knows he should have (by respecting you) because deep down he knows you cared for him in the past, and you recent conversation demonstrates further that you cared enough to “go another extra mile” to talk to him privately.

    To me, this relationship-building process is what has been lost in the high-stake testing environment, and even in the focus on technology of the past decade. It’s good to see that there are teachers actively pursuing and reporting that they seek to be a part of the lives of young people.

    With great respect.
    Ric

  2. Larry,

    This may not offer, as you say, a new or unique solution but it is by talking about such classroom events that we empower each other with insights and solutions to our problems as educators.

    I think honesty without empathy and a calm attitude go a long way towards making our students see. Being a teacher is also being human and I really liked the fact that you let that student know how his conduct affected you on the emotional level as well.

    Apart from anything else you do as a teacher or how you handled this episode, I think this was what carried the most weight in this exchange and what brought about the change in the student’s behaviour.

    Thank you for sharing this,

    Marisa

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