School life is filled with connection making as well as challenges. This year's challenges are specific and child-centered. There are children in my midst that need more or different to be able to achieve with greater satisfaction, happiness, and success.
These very personal and specific challenges can be frustrating as, like most teachers, I want to be there for every child. I want to meet every child where they are and do my best by them. Yet, when facing large groups of children at once, it's often difficult to zero in on every child's needs. Some make it easy--they're eager, ready to learn, and flexible enough to go with the flow, and others are more challenging--they resist the status quo for all kinds of reasons. At times, that can be frustrating because you feel guilty, overwhelmed, under-supported, confused, and unskilled with regard to a child's presentation, needs, and challenges.
What is a teacher to do at times like this?
Get Underneath the Situation
If you feel frustrated by a child's behavior or mindset, you have to get underneath that issue. There are specific issues that trigger us for all kinds of reasons. As a parent, my greatest trigger was when my children had great needs that I didn't plan for, recognize, or know how to support. When issues like that occurred, I felt guilty and became upset. I was frustrated for myself for letting a situation get to that point, and guilty that I let it happen. Of course, no parent can foresee every challenge or know how to react to every childhood behavior. Parents are human--we have limitations. In time, I became better at facing my children's issues with greater patience, good process, and calm.
In the classroom, every teacher has their trigger points--classroom behaviors and mindsets that are more challenging for them, and every teacher has their strengths--challenging behaviors and mindsets that they are well-versed at and ready to handle with strength. That's why we need one another when it comes to the kinds of complex problems and challenges students present. Over my career it has been group think that has helped us to get underneath children's challenges to discover troubling allergies, unexpected environmental problems, and obscure learning challenges.
So as I think of this year's challenging situations, I have to remember that, in cases like these, it takes a team approach--the kind of approach that brings counselors, nurses, therapists, family members, and teachers together to look deeply at the issue and figure out how to help a child best. We have to take this work seriously and make the time needed to help children rather than find fault with them. This is critical with regard to a child's self esteem, relationships, and success. No matter how long you've taught, this is a challenge we must embrace.
Make a plan
Once the team comes up with ways to help a child, you need to make a plan so that you are helping the child daily with positive teaching/learning efforts. Even if you can't mitigate all aspects of a problem, you can be put positive words and actions in place. To help a child who faces challenges is a one-step-ahead-of-the-other process. Our most challenging students are our greatest teachers, they challenge the best of us and teach us how to educate better. What is good for them is likely good for all of our students.
Don't be afraid to say to a child, "I'm trying to help you with my best ability, but sometimes, I don't know exactly what to do when you ____________________. How might I help you better at times like that." Just letting students know that you are trying is a positive step forward.
Chart your progress
Keep an informal journal of your efforts. Chart your successes as well as challenges along the way. Sometimes you may be harder on yourself than you have to be. For example if a child's behavior gets to you once every two months--that's not great, but not horrible as long as you act with a professional attitude and positive attention towards the child, but if a child's challenges are getting to you daily and you are reacting in ways that are unprofessional or negative, then that's a problem. Charting your efforts and reactions can help you to analyze the situation accurately and make the program better for a child.
Teaching well is a limitless job, one that is always presenting new challenges. It's good to continually prioritize amongst the many possibilities that exist choosing those areas where you can advance your skills and abilities to better your service to students and families in ways that matter. Onward.