Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Have you ever seen two Bighorn sheep ramming their heads together? Have you ever seen the film of the two locomotives that were driven into each other at full speed? I am a fifth grade teacher who conjures up these images when I think of myself and one of my students. The reason? My job is to bring up and discuss this student's problem behaviors and his incorrect solutions to answers despite the fact that he is having great difficulty accepting the possibility that he is not perfect.

The boy has always been overly sensitive to criticism. My strategy so far has been to say something that doesn't work, like "I like you. You're wonderful. But you're answer is not exactly correct."

Unfortunately, his issues have worsened. All his life he has been the center of attention, the most popular boy, the fastest, the strongest, the tallest, the handsomest, the creme de la creme. Now he finds himself second fiddle to his new step-brother, and he is not handling this new situation well. His new step-brother has leukemia. I am sure that his displacement as the family's center of attention must hurt, but his need for continued back-patting has turned sour. As his teacher, I am now unable to correct him in the slightest way without getting arguments and denials. He is unable to accept responsibilty for his own actions.

His reflexes are quick and responsive, and I can see him formulating his argument the moment I begin my sentence with, "This is good, _ _ _ _ _ _ _, but - ." Instantly I get some arbitrary, contrary excuse that prevents me from pointing out his answer makes no sense, and if it did, there is no punctuation of any kind on his paper.

I have a tough road to travel with this boy, and unfortunately, he is the class leader. That means other students take his side. I have become the Bald Meanie, the Yeller, and the Grumpy Teacher. It's a role I can't stand.

I have three choices:

1) Let the kid sit in the corner and mildew. Stop all instruction. Discontinue all learning on his part. Have no expectations. Just keep him from arguing with me. His arguing is a detriment to the rest of the class. Unfortunately, setting him in the corner to rot is to his detriment.

2) Butt heads! Collide head-on!! Use all forces in my arsenal, including but not limited to sending him to the school principal.

3) Use what little tactical advantage I have as an adult to get through to this kid. In other words, use my older intellect (I was gonna use the word "superior" intellect, but I'm not convinced that's accurate), reverse psychology, and every mental and emotional trick in my thin, little book to make this boy understand that I have to be able to teach him without his taking it the wrong way.

I'll tell you what I have always done in the past: #3.

I'll let you know if it works. The collision/solution will be decided soon.


Vicky said...

Walter, your insights into 5th grade angst are so astute. I am crossing my fingers that your #3 works.

Jack said...

Have you tried saying, "I need to be able to teach you without your taking it the wrong way"? Not that that would necessarily work -- he'd probably break out crying or arguing. But I was just curious.