There are years when you limp along all year, certain you’ve lost your touch completely. The kids are out of control and none of your tricks are working. Some days you feel like crying, but of course you never do because that would be the end of life as you dream it. Other days you get quiet, or you go along as though everything is okay, even though that is far from the truth. And on some days you get mad. You write referrals, suspend the most serious offenders from your class over and over again and you no longer care if they don’t like you because you can’t stand them. It’s on, and you will win. After a suspension they come back swearing they will behave better, and sometimes they do for a minute or two.
You understand that every child deserves the best you have to offer. As you look at the quiet, desperate looks on the faces of the other students in your class, the ones who do the assigned work and try to actually participate, you resolve yet again that the miscreants will not dominate things any more. And the cycle of acting out, referring, suspending and reconciliation begins again and again. And you know that this behavior is not only happening in your classroom, and you wonder why you are the only one doing any sort of intervention. You ask other teachers, and they so agree with you that certain kids are just out of control, but when you ask them why they are not writing them up as well, they fade out of the conversation.
So you keep trying. You can remember when you could see a child in there, one who might one day become a decent adult, but the memory is pretty dim by now. And you can’t see any way to make contact with that child. So you do what you think the other kids need most.
Then one day, after referring two of the gravest offenders once again, the Principal calls their parents in and tells them all in no uncertain terms that if any more of this behavior crosses her desk they will be expelled from school. She tells them our students deserve better, and the disruption these boys are causing will no longer be tolerated. And she suspends them for two days.
This time, when the boys come back they are chagrined. They apologize and say they are embarrassed to have been suspended for such a small thing. You tell them that to you and the other students it is not small, and that they will no longer be allowed to dominate your classroom. You tell them that you will do the same thing again, as many times as necessary, and they believe you. Suddenly they sit in their seats and do the assigned work. They don’t play around, or call out or bully other students. They ask you repeatedly if they are being good. They wonder if you’ve told the principal and they go ask her if she has heard anything good about them.
Then one day, one of the boys says, “Maestra, Mrs. X asked if she was my favorite teacher, and I told her no. I told her you are my favorite teacher. ” Stunned, you ask why ever he told her that. You ask why you are his favorite teacher, and he replies, “Porque Usted es buena gente conmigo (you are a good person with me). You teach me things I need to know, especially in English. You are just the best teacher for me.” And in a moment of clarity, you realize that kids do crave limits. When they don’t have them, they will seek them and some will push harder than others as they look for the security they need. And you wonder what your career in teaching might have been like had you, the one who is known for being a little too nice, been a little meaner sometimes. If you who understands so well the security inherent in giving a person limits had stood a little more firmly behind your own limits, what would the impact have been on your students and yourself? And you resolve to honor those limits, both yours and those of your students, in the future, understanding that it is never too late to learn to do a better job.