Fits and Starts


Donald has had an up and down week, requiring a good faith call from the guidance counselor home to inquire about the sudden backslide in his behavior and the next day, a note from me to mom that, because I wrote it in Spanish, took me all of our writer’s workshop to complete. (I wrote plenty, but Donald refused to even open his folder, so he wrote nothing).

I am realistic and hopeful as I remember Mama Foteah’s sage words about a similar situation my first year: don’t let one slip up erase all the progress. I treat Donald’s impulsive/regressive behaviors as separate entities, helping me (and I hope him) realize and remember that there are always fresh opportunities to impress. He’s also back on a sticker chart which, combined with ample praise, really helps to build him up.

Today, Donald was stringing together a wonderful day. Polite to his classmates, following directions, smiling freely. Did the fact that his mother visited the classroom for most of the morning play a role? Without question, but she wasn’t there in the afternoon when the healthy goodness endured.

All was moving nicely. Donald created a beautiful picture frame that he showed me with pride. He walked with a sick child to the bathroom. He packed up without delay or confusion. And with sixth period math coming up, we were merely 100 minutes away from a practically perfect day.

I started on the math with Donald. He struggled to grasp the concept, but we worked on it, and with my assistance he was able to complete the first three problems.

But when we got to the fourth, something inside him caused him to suddenly lose interest in the counters and gain a sudden appreciation for flipping through the corners of his book. I became very anxious, imploring him to continue on the great path he was on. All I got was a blank gaze, as if to say ‘Isn’t this what I’m supposed to be doing?’

Well what was I supposed to be doing? I felt my frustration bubbling up. There was no obvious – or in my mind at the time, acceptable – reason for the train suddenly coming to a screeching halt. I told my para I would be right back, and I left the room to cool down. Luckily, the first person I walked into was another teacher of self-contained special ed who can understand the challenges I am facing better than most. She helped me calm down, and I returned to my room.

Donald still refused to try the math again, and I let it go. What more can I do other than actually bang my head against a wall?


The postscript is that Donald’s day continued beautifully. In an attempt to get him to finally put pictures on his writing paper, I offered a deal: if you work for 10 minutes and then you can put all the math manipulatives in their containers.

With his eyes on the prize of this coveted job, Donald took our 5-minute timer to his desk, retrieved his folder, flipped the timer, and began to draw. Five minutes later I flipped it again. Five minutes later, he flipped it again.

He had drawn all his pictures and worked past our agreed-upon timeframe. I was pretty amazed. I showed him what manipulatives I needed put away and he worked on it, prudently, diligently, neatly, and proudly. He beamed as he showed me the way he stowed everything in place, and, for the briefest of moments, I believed in the power of conditional rewards.

I can sacrifice my own beliefs about their danger if it means letting this child begin to believe in himself.

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5 responses to “Fits and Starts

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Fits and Starts « From the Desk of Mr. Foteah -- Topsy.com

  2. Sometimes children just aren’t motivated by the activites and lesson we planned. Sometimes children with special needs do not understand the idea of doing work because the teacher asks you to or that is what is expected during a certain time period. “making a deal” helps a student get through a boring, difficult, or uninteresting task. Reflecting with the student on how they were able to go above the agreed upon time is a valuable way to help a student feel successful and realize they can do it!

  3. You are a true inspiration, what you are doing with this child is molding him into a better person, a more confident person, and I hope you truly know how much the entire community of friends and parents thanks teachers just like you!

  4. Thank you for this post. Your patience with this situation payed off. I don’t think it was about sacrificing your beliefs, it was about meeting the kids where he was for the moment and helping him find a way past the road block he had put up. You said it best… it’s about letting this child begin to believe in himself. Well done!

  5. Pingback: Bailiff, Next Case Please! « From the Desk of Mr. Foteah

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