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Friday, December 5, 2014

Share the Successful Stories – Just Change the Names

Most teachers have heard at least one terrifying story about that one kid who was so horrible, so difficult, he would have challenged anyone. But what about the stories with that same kid, but with a different outcome thanks to the hard work of a fantastic teacher? Maybe we should start sharing those stories instead…

Eric never had a chance, at the age of four Eric watched in horror as his father shot his mother, and then himself in their family’s dining room after a heated argument about infidelity. Eric was placed in three foster homes before kindergarten, and by the start of first grade had a reputation throughout his elementary school as the most challenging kid to ever step foot on campus. In essence, at six years old, many teachers had already written Eric off as a failure. As each year ended, the next year’s grade level teachers would argue and fight over who would “get stuck” with Eric the next school year; usually drawing straws was the solution. The fourth grade team even decided to divide the duties among them, each taking a turn watching Eric by having him trade teachers for each subject area.

By the end of Eric’s challenging fourth grade year, he was suspended twice for fighting with others, swearing, throwing objects and using profane language. He had lunch detention almost every day, and rarely spent recess off the bench by the teachers. Eric had been given many titles by teachers, parents, and students: Unmotivated, challenging, horrible, a bully, a jerk, a waste of energy, slow, stupid, fat, loud, obnoxious, a waste of tax dollars, a drain…. Is it any wonder Eric struggled to find success in school?

Before fifth grade started, a new teacher named Mrs. Johnson decided she wanted to accept the challenge and teach Eric that next year. Despite having only one year of teaching experience under her belt, her teammates didn’t put up a fight; quietly they took the proverbial step back, and allowed Mrs. Johnson to step forward. During the summer, Mrs. Johnson wrote a letter to Eric and his current foster parents saying how excited she was to have Eric in her class.

On the first day of school, every student had an assigned seat, and for the first time in six years, Eric found his name in the middle of the class, in a group with other students. Eric wasn’t sure how to take Mrs. Johnson, so he did what he had always done, he pushed expectations, tested the water, and tried to rattle Mrs. Johnson by using bad language, talking aloud, and arguing with her about anything available. Yet, to Eric’s amazement, the consequences for his actions didn’t include lunch detention, trips to the office, or missing out on recess, instead, they resulted in one-on-one time with Mrs. Johnson before and after school. It wasn’t fun for Eric by any means, but for the first time Eric could remember, he truly felt that someone cared. Mrs. Johnson would talk about actions, what they meant to others, and how Eric, “Could be anything he wanted to be, and do anything he wanted to do if he was willing to try.” This speech was not the magic solution; Eric still turned in bad work, only to see the phrase, “I know you can do better” on the top of his paper instead of the typical F in the upper right-hand corner.

By midyear Eric stopped fighting it, and finally accepted the fact that Mrs. Johnson not only cared about him, but was not going to give up like his other teachers had done. Eric started working harder, paying more attention, and decided school really wasn’t the best place for bad language and fighting. Eric was finding success, and by the end of the year he found a level of self-efficacy he never had before. He wasn’t the perfect child, he still argued and made mistakes, but a teacher cared, so maybe other teachers would to…

Mrs. Johnson wrote a letter to Eric’s future middle school teachers, stating the following: “Eric isn’t perfect, he is going to make mistakes, he is going to push your buttons, and he is going to stretch the limit of your patience. But don’t give up, show him you care, and he will surprise you, he will reach your expectations, and he will be successful.”

Such a perfect message for all of us isn’t it? Don’t give up, show them you care, and they will surprise you…they WILL reach your expectations, and they WILL be successful.

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