Yesterday, I arrived at school for my teaching assignment. Before the first bell, three staff members had already offered their assistance and described my class of sixteen 2nd-graders as “awful.”
On my first day of substitute teaching, I had been handed a room full of manic, unmedicated Bobs.
It was hardly an easy day. My first half hour or so was spent just trying to get them all to acknowledge my presence in the classroom. After that, it was a continuous effort to keep them engaged, focused, and working.
But I was able to do it. There were even moments when the room was quiet and everyone’s eyes were focused on the work in front of them. Even the “problem” kids were making an effort to participate, and loving the praise they got from me for doing so.
I am not a psychiatrist or specialist in elementary education, and claim no ability to diagnose anyone–but in one day, I could point out at least three children in dire need of some form of intervention. One child in particular reminded me of Bob–very bright, attractive, witty and charming, with no ability to sit still. He would finish a worksheet in record time (with all correct answers), then start doing cartwheels in the back of the room.
Another boy was a wanderer–at any moment, he would lose focus, get up, and begin wandering the room.
The entire class seemed to be on edge the whole day, and without near constant reminders to stay focused, they would drift off almost immediately.
Once I had their attention, however, they really weren’t so difficult. I live with “problem” behavior; I’ve learned multiple ways to handle it. The bouncers usually took their seats with a gentle tap or nudge with their chair. The wanderer was easily led back to his seat. I sent a few to the “safe seat,” but didn’t have to remove anyone from class or call for staff assistance.
No, it wasn’t the students who had me near tears by the day’s end. It was the adults supposedly there to teach them. All day, other teachers and staff would call out my students for one transgression or another. They barked at the kids like drill sergeants. They yelled. They demeaned. One teacher pointed to my “Bob” and whispered, “there’s our future thug.”
These kids are seven and eight years old.
Some of them come from non-English speaking families. Most of them are low-income. If their teachers have already written them off–what are their chances of living any kind of “normal” life?
None of them are bad kids. They are kids with serious issues not being addressed–issues holding them and their classmates back. Labeling and treating them like criminals hardly seems to be a solution.