The Continuing Story of a Boy and His Paper Clips

One student in particular this year has provided me several grief- and angst-riddled experiences, promoted a multitude of conversations with others who work with him, and generally caused me a lot of distress. Because despite whatever impression people might have from reading this blog, the truth is, I, like most, do sometimes run up against what feels like a brick wall – unyielding, inflexible, and wont to stay the same for a good, long while.

Among other dalliances, this student has found particular joy in tiny objects – like paper clips. That is to say that if he has one – or any other similarly-sized object –  in his hand, it is likely to occupy much more of his attention than anything else that should be occupying his attention (like, say, his work). He has been known to angrily fold his arms and pound his fists on the table, wordlessly, in an expression of dissatisfaction with whatever isn’t going exactly his way. In weeks past, I’d lost my cool with him more than once, even, I admit, multiple times daily, to the point that I knew kids were beginning to categorize him as a certain type of kid (and not in a good way).

Based on what you’ve read here, perhaps you’re also beginning to categorize him, assigning him labels of varying severity and intricacy. Whatever you have in mind, perhaps you can suspend that judgement and consider where he was a week ago and where he is today.

One of the big takeaways from Annette Breaux’s presentation last week is that every child needs to feel they are the favorite. This involves being positive with all students and smiling at them bunches.

I thought about the majority of my interactions with this student and realized just how negative they were. So, I’ve gone in completely the other direction with this guy and have turned on the happy, bubbly positiveness.

Every day when he walks in, I tell him how thrilled I am to see him, saying things like, “I am SO happy to see you!” I always make sure to give him a high-five or fist-bump when he comes in. (Originally, I thought I might choke on the words. Now, I am genuinely excited for him and his Angry Birds hat to walk in each morning). In exchange he might give me a salute or a, “Yeah!” He comes in now and gets right down to business. Instead of being among the last to unpack, he is among the first.

In one week, he has gone from frequently being angry to frequently being happy. He is more invested in his work and more receptive to what I say. He seems to be focusing more, and I’ve noticed him looking to me in times of distress, finally understanding that I care and want to help him. I am taking a special interest in him when he does his work. Since he often is reluctant to write, I have made arrangements with him wherein we can take turns writing on his paper. He now puts my initials to show where I’ll write and his to show where he will.

Periodically, he has pulled a gift from his pocket and said, “Mr. Ray! This is for you!” Invariably, it’s been a paperclip. I always thank him, as if it’s the greatest gift I could ever receive, and say, “I always need more paperclips!” and ask him to place it where I keep mine. He usually says, “Yeah!”

I am truly excited by the change in this young man, and it is plain as day how grateful he is for the way I’ve changed. I’ve allowed myself to accept him as he is and be thankful for the fact that he’s in my class. In turn, he is beginning to flourish.



6 responses to “The Continuing Story of a Boy and His Paper Clips

  1. Thank you for sharing the power of positive words. Your “experiment” is evidence of the importance of building relationships with our students. What a difference just one week can make. This post really resonated with me and connected so well to my blog post from yesterday on “The Power of Our Words.” Thank you for sharing.

  2. Pingback: The Power of Our Words « From Surviving to Thriving

  3. When I first started teaching, a wise teacher gave me this advice: The students who are the most difficult to like are the ones who need us the most. Thanks for reminding me that every child deserves my best.

  4. Pingback: Classroom Management tips – 2 by 10 « Mme Chiasson

  5. Pingback: I Shaved My Head. What Do You Think? | From the Desk of Mr. Foteah

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