I’m about to share something about my life that very few people know about.
I was a behavior problem.
When I tell people this, they usually don’t believe me. I think it has to do with the fact that most of my teacher friends had a super positive experience in their schooling and my experience was far from that.
I was, what most teachers would label, a behavior problem as a child. I won’t go into detail on this post but I know I had behavior issues because I was not allowed to return to preschool after attending one day. When we moved to Arizona I began kindergarten and my parents made it clear that I had to behave. I remember trying my best to stay under control but I realized something early on in Kindergarten. My teacher didn’t like me and I knew it. It’s been 30 years and I still remember how it felt.
She never flat out told me she didn’t like me, but her feelings were very clear because of the way she acted towards me and how she treated me compared to the other students. I remember one time in specific. We took turns being the line leader in her class and when you were the line leader you got a prize at the end of the week. Boy was I excited to be the line leader and you can’t imagine my excitement about that prize on Friday. Was it going to be a pencil? A dinosaur like Miguel got? My mind was spinning with all the possibilities. Well, Friday rolled around and I didn’t get my prize. I thought back through the whole week and I was sure I had always been at the front of the line when it was time. I brought it up to her, with very limited English as I had only been in school a couple of months, but the prize never came. I remember being so confused about it.
Now I don’t want to vilify this teacher because if I’m being completely honest, with my history, I probably wasn’t the best behaved child and she must have had her reasons to feel the way she did. But her not giving me that prize broke my heart a bit and I wish she would have either given me the prize for doing the job (even a sticker would have been nice) or if she had sat me down and helped me correct my behavior. Even at five, I knew there had to be a reason for me not to get my prize and I never knew why I didn’t earn it.
Looking back at that year with my “teacher glasses” I learned some important lessons that I still draw upon that have helped me with my own students. Here are some of those key points:
1. Children know how you feel.
Thinking back to my kindergarten teacher, even though she never said she didn’t like me, I knew it. Children know how you feel about them whether you think you make it obvious or not. Let’s talk about reality. Teachers are human and sometimes you will clash with certain personality types. You most likely will have a child in your class that you don’t like at some point. Maybe your personalities don’t mesh or maybe that child just gets under your skin. One of my biggest pieces of advice to everyone is to find a way to make your challenging students into your favorite students. If you find a way to do that, the year will be so much smoother. Best of all, if you are able to establish a good relationship with that child, it will help them so much in the long run.
So what do you do if you have a child that you don’t connect with? I highly suggest making your very best and sincere effort to get to know this child. Whatever you do, don’t act like you like them. Kids know when someone is acting. One of the easiest ways to connect with children is to ask lots of questions. Walking in line is a great time to ask some casual questions. I’ll ask them about their family, friends, what they like to watch on TV. Give them some compliments. Compliments make everyone feel great! One of my favorite ways to connect is by eating lunch with my class and sitting BY children that I want to form a better connection with. When they start to share and ask questions about you, this is your sign that they are forming that relationship. They care about you too! Don’t ever underestimate the power of a good connection.
2. Children will like you even if you don’t like them.
Have you ever seen those teachers that are super grouchy all the time and flat out mean to their kids? Then comes Valentine’s day or their Christmas and the kids still bring them presents? That’s because kids don’t want to hate their teacher. I remember that even when I knew my kindergarten teacher didn’t like me, I still liked her. So much that I saved up all my money (which took months because there wasn’t much money to go around) to buy my first Barbie and I got one that looked just like her! Same hairdo and everything.
Even when you feel like a kid doesn’t like you, the odds are that they do but they don’t know how to show it. After having a rough day, it is easy to slip into the theory that a kid lives to make you miserable. Whatever you do, don’t give in to that feeling. If you have a rough day with someone, start each day fresh and with a smile. Each day really is a new chance to make that connection. In my twelve years of teaching, I have yet to see a kid that flat out intended to hate their teacher.
3. Behavior kids don’t necessarily know they are behavior kids.
Even though I was only five, I had a feeling I wasn’t the best behaved kid in class. But I didn’t know how bad I was being or not being. I had just come from Mexico, I didn’t understand the teacher, and my last experience in school wasn’t great. I had no idea what I could have been doing that was considered bad. So when you have that tough kid on your roster, it’s best to assume that they just don’t know that what they are doing is bad in your eyes. Sometimes children just don’t know and it’s not their fault. Sometimes we forget that these little humans have only been on this planet for a few years and it is up to us to help them learn and develop as people. When you are struggling with those behaviors, it’s best to pull the child aside and explain expectations. Those private and honest conversations can make a huge difference.
At the end of the day, my kindergarten experience has helped me help the children I teach. I don’t resent her because I can’t possibly know what was going through her mind, but I can learn from it and grow as an educator because of it. I’m going to wrap up by emphasizing that it is crucial to establish positive relationships with all your children, especially those that haven’t had the most positive experiences in prior years. Establishing those relationships takes a while but the time invested will be worth it for you and your students.