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.