Tag Archives: sensitivity

How to Treat a Kid You Don’t Like

If you’re like me, you’re human. That means that as much as you profess to absolutely adore each and everyone of your students, realistically, you don’t. There are always kids that rub us the wrong way. No one should judge us for being human.

When we should be judged, however, is when we allow ourselves to single out the child we don’t like for particular scorn and humiliation.

Why does a young child deserve the ire of an adult who is trusted with his or her care? What message does this deliver to the child and the peers? The messages are clear: “You’re not worth my time,” “I don’t like you,” “You bother me,” “You make my day worse,” “You are a nuisance,” “You are not worthy of my kindness.”

Does this model appropriate interpersonal behavior? No. Does this create a low-stress, high-support environment? No. Does this help build self-esteem and motivation? No.

Does this allow the adult to unnecessarily exert an undue influence on the child? Yes. Does this ruin the child’s day? Yes. Does this make the child timid and fearful? Yes.

The only way to treat a child you don’t like is the same way you treat a child you do like: with love and respect. Children are children – developing, impressionable, fragile, and eager to please. Even if it hurts your face to smile at a child you don’t like, it’s necessary to do so.

Remind me again, why are we in this field?

Is it to nurture and help? Or is it to bully and squash?

Sadly, some people aren’t quite sure.

Don’t Fail Kids With First Impressions

“First impressions count,” or so they say. But should they?

In my career, I’ve encountered many types of children. They’ve been funny, studious, shy, noisy, sad, boisterous, unmotivated, driven, intelligent, average, overweight, generous…

Most of us are drawn to a particular type of person. If that person doesn’t fit our vision of an ideal individual, we may be less inclined to want to get to know them. In our heads, we will form a series of incontrovertible beliefs and convince ourselves that every last one of them is accurate.

I know I have made the mistake of assuming the worst of others based on my initial impressions. You probably have done the same, maybe of your colleagues or other peers.

The great fault is not in having first impressions. The mistake is holding onto those impressions and convincing yourself they’re right.

Have you done this with students? I have. There have been kids I’ve had – and even have now – that I made my mind up about before giving them enough of a chance. I’ve written them off as lazy, rude, or beyond help.

And I’ve never been right.

We need to be sure not to hold on to the first impressions kids give us. Even if it takes months to be revealed, there is always more than meets the eye. Every child wants to learn, be successful, feel proud and have others be proud. If we understand this, then we can work past our first impressions and work toward figuring out who the child really is, instead of assuming the worst.

When we give our students a chance to let us get to know them and show us who they really are, only then do they have their chance to shine and be valued. We need to let kids show us who they are before we decide.

We Are Not the Villains

It’s not okay when a child has to die. It’s not okay for innocents to be murdered.

And, now, for very crystal clear, solid reasons, it’s not okay to bash teachers.

I’ve often defended the teaching profession as the noblest of all, but so many people think teachers are selfish, lazy, apathetic union thugs.

It takes a certain level of cowardice to put down a teacher and their chosen profession.

The best teachers are pillars of society. They raise kids up and push them where they never thought they’d go. They devote their time and resources to impacting young peoples’ lives in ways they’ll never know. They encourage, inspire, console, love, and praise.

For most, teaching isn’t just a job. There are teachers so invested in their students that they have dreams about them. They think about them on the weekends. They buy them clothes and meals. They make sure the family has a Christmas tree when they can’t afford one.

And there are teachers so absolutely devoted to their children that they actually place themselves between an assassin and their students, unflinchingly accepting their own untimely and horrible fate so that little babies – with so much life, innocence, and potential – don’t have to.

Why must it take such a heinous, inconceivable event to make people rethink a teacher’s motivations? We don’t teach for summers off. We don’t teach for guaranteed sick days. We don’t teach for being home by 3:30 every day.

Teachers, above everything else, are human beings. We teach because we are good people who just want to leave an impact on the world.

None of us ever dreams of having to confront the same fate our colleagues at Sandy Hook did on Friday. We want our children to come to school with smiles, eager to learn. We want to lift them up when they’re down. We want to encourage them to take chances and to be proud of themselves.

We never want to see them become victim to lunacy. We want them to have all the best in life.

We are not the villains.

We are the heroes.

Victoria Soto was younger than me. She was a teacher. She died because the gunman must have been frustrated that her kids were “in gym” (though they were actually in the classroom hidden from his sight). He turned his weapon on her, and killed her. Victoria Soto died to save her students’ lives. Rather than let children be killed, she let herself be killed. Because of her, the mommies and daddies of those children got to see, hold, and speak to their children again.

Victoria Soto was a teacher, a hero, and an angel.

So, I defy you now to haphazardly lump all teachers together and call us, “selfish.” I defy you to say we don’t have kids’ best interests at heart. And I encourage you to step back and realize that we teachers – who want so much for our students, who advocate for them, who push them, who care for them – are not the problem.

If you want to find a silver lining to this very grey cloud, look no further than the heroism displayed by the teachers at Sandy Hook. And the next time you make a generalization about teachers, instead of saying, “Anyone can be a teacher,” say, “It takes a remarkable human being to be a teacher.”


After Sandy, A School Community Comes Together for Its Own

It’s amazing the way people come together for good when the chips are truly down. Community is, indeed, an incredible force.

Having now distributed the cash we collected for staff members affected by Hurricane Sandy – people who lost so so much – I am able to look back at the whirlwind experience it was to collect the donations and give them out.

I was knocked speechless when I took the first donation: a crisp $100 bill. Donations continued to come in on a steady basis with people showing similar generosity. Some asked sheepishly what others were giving, and expressed disappointment that they couldn’t give more than they did. My answer was the same each time: “This is a beautiful donation.” And they all were.

We had a group of folks we planned to give the money to. It was all supposed to be a surprise, but eventually word got around to me that some people on the list were planning to decline the money. They felt there was no reason for them to accept it when others were dealing with much more than they were.

As incredible as it was for colleagues to come up to me all week with envelopes of cash and checks, I was perhaps most moved by the gestures of those who said, “Others need it more than me.” And try as I did to convince them that people wanted them to have it, they wouldn’t budge. They passed on their cut so that others could get more. It’s hard for me to even express how touched I was by that. To be sure, when they first told me they wouldn’t take the money, I was disappointed and bordering on indignant, but the more I thought about it, I totally understood why. Needless to say, I gained plenty of respect for them.

I’m proud to say we raised more than $3,000 from the staff. The recipients were overwhelmed with gratitude and shock when I presented them their portions. You always wish you can do more, but my colleagues should be proud for having done what they did. We all hope it helps people start moving forward.

Related: Sandy Left Tons of Destruction. Now What Can I Do About It?

Sandy Left Tons of Destruction. Now What Can I Do About It?

Sandy, you suck.

The so-called “superstorm” may have been amazing in its magnitude and historic impact, but for too many people, Sandy was an unwelcome house guest who unapologetically trashed the place before leaving. She didn’t even have the decency to say, “good-bye”.

When schools were closed in the wake of the storm, I kept in touch with people in affected areas via text or calls as much as possible. Cell service was terribly spotty so communications sometimes took a day or two to get out and back. I got bits and pieces of everyone’s stories – tiny inklings of their concerns and misery.

When we returned this week, though, I had a chance to hear everyone’s stories in fuller detail, and I must say, they’re bad. Staff in my school – many of whom live on Long Island – remain without power today, nine days later. Unfortunately, that is the best case scenario among those affected.

Too many people are totally displaced from their homes. A lack of power is one thing. A lack of heat and gas are quite different. Some people lost major amounts of property from the floods Sandy caused. Goodbye furniture, fencing, carpeting, photographs, clothes, cars, and normalcy.

When someone dealing with this catastrophe tells me their neighborhood is like a “war zone,” I have to believe it. Army trucks driving down the streets tend to create that feeling.

It all makes me feel a bit helpless and even guilty. Thankfully, I dodged the storm’s major bullets. Never lost power, never lost heat. My car is fine and I was lucky to have a full tank of gas before the storm hit (so I don’t yet know the pleasure of waiting 3 hours for gas that may not even be available). It is difficult to see others in such distress when I’m able to come home, open up my fridge for a snack and sit down to write a blog while listening to Spotify, lights off only by choice.

I want to help these good people going through this trying time.

That’s why I was totally pumped to hear from a colleague who thought it might be a good idea to take up a collection of clothes from staff to donate to the Breezy Point residents sheltering near our school. What a great way to make an impact on our fellow New Yorkers.

As we discussed the idea and brought others into the discussion, we came to agreement that our priority should be to focus first on our own affected staff. Breezy Point victims were reportedly receiving copious amounts of donations at the shelter, and it just wouldn’t have seemed right to start expanding our efforts outside of school when there were people in school who might need our assistance, too.

Today, everyone in the school received an e-mail outlining our plans for collecting money, toiletries, and clothes to help relieve some of the pressure Sandy has exerted on staff. It is my sincere hope that people are able to unite for everyone and help them begin to move forward in some small way.

I know it’s trite – and maybe even obnoxious to the untrained ear – if I say something like, “We’re New Yorkers and we’ll get through this.” Sorry, but it’s true. I hope my colleagues and I can play a small part.

Making a Positive First Impression

Periodically throughout the upcoming school year, I will be referring to a recently published Eye on Education book, Making Good Teaching Great: Everyday Strategies for Teaching with Impact. Its authors are Annette Breaux, whose ideas I have written about extensively, and Todd Whitaker, who is one of my favorite guys on Twitter.

Although I got this book late last school year, I put it away until now. The book is written in a way that provides you with daily strategies to use throughout the school year to make an impact on students. It is a 180 chapter book, each one providing a new activity to try. I’ll write about selected chapters as the year goes on, focusing on those that present new ideas or ideas for which I am passionate.

I’m going to start with the book’s day one activity, called, “First Impression, Positive Expression.” The authors write:

The fact is that students need happy adults who serve as positive role models in their lives. You cannot help your students by being yet another negative influence in their lives. Therefore, it is vitally important that the first impression your students form of you is a positive one.

I was one of those teachers, in my first year, even my second, where I wanted it to be crystal clear that I was in charge and NOT TO BE MESSED WITH. I actually shudder to think back on my opening day lectures, which could have been titled, “This is How It’s Going to Be: NO QUESTIONS ASKED.” What must have these poor kids thought of me? I was their first male teacher, and there I was reinforcing all of their preconceived (and highly misguided!) notions.

(Video: Thoughts for Your First First Day)

Needless to say, that’s no longer my modus operandi. My goal now is to build the community from the get-go, a community that doesn’t revolve around me, but the students (novel, eh?) I shake the kids’ hands when I go to pick them up, introducing myself and asking for their names. I greet the parents. I make chitchat. The happier the kids are to start the school year, the better. It is actually quite thrilling to see their fears yield to excitement, positively bursting out of their uniforms as we begin the ascent to the classroom and I give them an idea of what’s waiting inside. Bottom line: I don’t need the power trip anymore.

Last year, I had five students for the second consecutive year, so there was lots of catching up to do. This year, I have one student that I had two years ago, and I know a few of the others only distantly. So they are undoubtedly going to be intimidated and it’s on me, first day jitters and all, to make them feel comfortable.

I can’t imagine ever going back to the way I once was. Our students want respect and care. They have enough people in their lives putting them down, ordering them around, telling them they’re worthless, etc. I’m not going to be one of those people.

I don’t think you should be, either.

I’m So Much More Than Just a Teacher

A colleague sent this to me. It gave me goosebumps. It left me wondering, “If only all these know-it-alls could read this and understand that it’s the TRUTH.” Enjoy.

Look Deeper to Understand

I’m going through a lot of my old posts to remember some of the lessons I learned but may have forgotten. Courtesy of Annette Breaux, here’s one that we can’t afford to forget:

Remember: everyone in the classroom has a story that leads to misbehavior or defiance. Nine times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won’t make you angry. It will break your heart. – Annette Breaux

I personally believe that all kids just want people to respect, believe in, and care for them. Let’s not forget that kids are kids and their fears, concerns, tribulations and anxieties will often manifest themselves in unsavory ways. This should not be cause for punishment, but cause for us to probe deeply to understand what is at the root of the behavior. Our kids urgently need us to look deeper than just what’s on the surface.

When You Know Something’s Wrong

In our minds, we like to think kids will be forthcoming about all their issues, willing to confide in us the problems they’re dealing with just because we tell them we care. Some kids are comfortable doing this, but in my experience working with the elementary-aged set (as a teacher and camp employee), most are not.

I don’t advocate pulling each child aside and asking for their entire life and home stories, but when it seems that something is bothering them and they don’t want to open up, I do feel we have a duty to help them through it. Here are some ideas that I’ve found encourage kids to open up.

  • Silence is golden. This is from my journalism days. Silence makes most people uncomfortable, and their desire to have someone say something will cause them to talk. If you have the luxury of sitting quietly with a child after saying something like, “You can let me know what’s bothering you,” then chances are they’ll open up because the silence makes them.
  • Encourage note passing. Lots of times my students are too scared to say something out loud, either because of embarrassment or because they fear retribution. I always offer kids the option of writing me a note letting me know what’s up. Sometimes they won’t discuss the note with me under any circumstances, and other times, we will write to each other back and forth trying to work toward a solution. Either way, the child is unburdened of thinking they have to deal with something alone. The words on the page are less scary than the words coming out of their mouths.
  • Choose your words carefully. We want the message in a difficult situation to be, “It is safe for you to talk to me. You won’t get in trouble. I can help you if you talk to me.” Unfortunately, sometimes our impatience masks that message in a harsh tone: “Just tell me already! Can we get this over with and get back to business? Ugh, you know I’m just trying to help you!” We need to tread lightly around kids’ emotions if we want them to be able to trust us.
  • What’s minor to us is major to them. I remember one year in camp, one of my campers was upset about something at least once a week. Usually, his issues were ones most adults wouldn’t give more than a second’s thought. But for this kid, the issues felt huge and all-important. We have to acknowledge these feelings while helping kids keep them in perspective, too.

Respect for Those Who Reflect

I pride myself on being reflective about my profession. I often think about my students and how to best meet their needs. This happens at home, in the car, and often times, before I start teaching a lesson I already planned. (Of course, reflection during a lesson is one of the keys to making it work!)

I think it’s so important to have a lesson plan and your materials prepared prior to teaching a lesson. However, plans rarely go according to themselves, and the ability to adapt on the fly by understaning where your students are coming from distinguishes great teaching.

Yesterday, I found myself reflecting as I erased the dry erase board after a fairly difficult listening passage. I had noticed most of the students were getting it, but I also knew their festering distaste with test prep was beginning to surface again (even though I purposely broke the routine and tried a new angle at the same kind of work).

So, I reasoned that, even though my upcoming reading lesson was prepared in a certain way, it wasn’t going to work as I originally intended. So I switched things up. The kids have been dying to just read books, so, even though I knew we needed to work through sequencing, I said, “Let’s read a couple of passages and then we’ll get out the books.” This energized them and they did solid work. It also gave me time to administer a reading assessment to one of my students, who wound up blowing the roof off the joint with her beautiful intonation.

We have to be flexible and respond to our students’ needs and wants. We have to reflect on what works for them and listen when they tell us something is too boring or too hard. We have to respect reflection because it benefits the kids, and that’s what matters most.