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If You Give a Teacher a Challenging Student…


Teachers change lives and this article, written in the style of ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie‘ explores the many ways that teachers find to reach their most difficult students. They go above and beyond every day to make a difference.

If you give a teacher a challenging student….

They will look inside the tantrum-filled defiant eyes to see the pain that lies behind them.

When they find out what the early trauma is that has caused the student’s pain, the teacher will cry heartfelt tears.

After their tears dry, they will look for moments in their overwhelmingly busy day to talk to the student. To laugh at their funny jokes. To find out if they like Pokemon or riding their bike to the park. Minecraft or Fortnite? Pizza or Tacos? 

If you give a teacher a challenging student, they will build a bridge. They will build a relationship.

As the relationship is developed, the student will feel safe. When the student feels safe, their cries for help get louder. The disruptions are more frequent as the student tests the relationship, expecting the teacher to give up on them like everyone else. 

When the behavior gets worse, the teacher doesn’t give up. They try harder. They put aside every single thing in their own lives and spend countless hours looking up behavioral strategies and finding solutions.

If you give a teacher a challenging student, they will agonize over whether to use token boards, PBIS, MTSS, mindfulness, or some other new behavior strategy. They talk to school counselors, psychologists, and other teachers to find the right fit.

When they find one that they think meets their student’s needs, they implement it with “fidelity.” They make the student the door holder to make them feel special.

They find books on rocks, fashion, or another topic the student might like. They swallow their pride to avoid power struggles, and the student will have good days.

After the good days, the bad days will come again. They always do.

When the bad days come, they will sit up in a cold sweat at 2 am and doubt their effectiveness and career choice. They will worry about the other students that they may be neglecting because of the time they are spending with “That Kid.” They will feel like they have failed everyone.

After their night of tossing and turning, they will want to pull the covers over their head and call a sub for the day, but then they remember “That kid” is someone’s kid, and they need help. The teacher will try harder.

If you give a teacher a challenging student, they will put their pants on, drink their coffee, and think about how much that student needs them to set limits and be consistent.

Needs them to give them the only hug they get in a day.

Needs them to see their good qualities.

Needs them to be patient.

Needs them to believe that they are worth believing in.

So, they will get to work: Meeting Needs.

And, then one day out of nowhere, there is a difference. A breakthrough. What every teacher teaches for. “That kid” starts to believe what you believe:

That they are special.

That they are lovable.

That they are worth it.

That makes all the difference.

And, the teacher will cry again: Happy tears.

So you see……………….

If you give a teacher a challenging student, they will change that student’s life; and in the process, they just might change their own.

Come join the conversation in the #teacherlife community!

Caption reads: If You Give a Teacher a Challenging Student... Photo of student alone in classroom head in their hands looking sad.

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Angela Barton

Veteran Member

Angela is a veteran kindergarten teacher. When she’s not teaching or writing, she can be found thrifting or spending time with her husband, daughters and two Maltese dogs.

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