How “That Kid” Needs One Adult to Look at Them Differently

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Every school has one. That one kid who has been mercilessly passed around from grade to grade, teacher to teacher in a not so fun game of hot potato. You get your class roster and you want to scream, cry, and/or buy all the wine when you realize he or she is in your class. How are you going to make it through the year without a) losing your cool b) karate chopping their ass, or c) unleashing a long string of expletives after a particularly long day?

Here are my tips for handling that one kid who just so manages to push your buttons and drive you over the edge.

1. You must actively work to love this student.

Notice I said, “actively work”. Some students are super easy to love. They are helpful, cute as a button, participatory, etc. I’m not talking about those students. I’m talking about the ones that bring about the worst possible gossip in a faculty lounge. These students are the ones that need your utmost attention. The best advice I got was from one of my master teachers in my grad school program. She said that every day while driving to work, she would make a promise to herself to actively love just one student. This student could be a hassle in class, but she would focus on that child’s name and face while gripping the steering wheel.

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I have rounded the corner to the staff parking lot many times thinking about just ONE student who is struggling in some way or another. I realize this is easier said than done, but I encourage you to try it. One kid a day is easy to deal with. 600 is a different story.

2. Put yourself in this child’s shoes for one whole day.

It’s super easy to dismiss students for being misbehaved or challenging. However, there is always a reason they are acting this way. I have had a few students with behavioral, emotional, and cognitive issues that were persistent no matter what I did. Once I thought about actually putting myself in their body for one whole day, I wanted to cry. What is it like to want to do well but have your mind forcibly work against you no matter what? What is it like to know that you will be severely disciplined (either verbally or physically) for the smallest infraction in school? What is it like to live in a constant fearful, anxious state that feels smothering and inescapable no matter how hard you try? After you weave your way into the mind of your student, it’s almost impossible to look at them the same way.

3.  Constant communication about this child is key.

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Many times these students have parents who are hesitant, resistant, or downright against any observations or recommendations given by the teacher. Even if I know a parent will most likely not be receptive to an email I am sending, I still send the email. Maybe I’m a naïve teacher, but you never know which email is going to make that light bulb go on in that parent’s head. I’ve had many parents refuse to acknowledge any type of issue with their child for years, only for something to suddenly click. Even if things don’t click, I believe in the power of paper trails and documentation. The last thing you want a parent to say is, “No one told me”. Is it exhausting emailing home?  Yes.  But is it worth it?  One hundred percent.

I’m not saying this child isn’t going to magically stop being exhausting for you. That’s just completely wishful thinking. I am saying that you can make it so a certain student isn’t the bane of your existence 8 hours a day, 180 days a year. This student deserves just one adult to look at him differently than all the others. And maybe that one person is you.


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Veteran Legend

Abigail Courter is a fifth year music teacher at a K-8 private school in California.  She has taught general music, band, music technology, and performing arts.

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