Tuesday, December 14, 2010


It's vital to be growing through your life rather than going through your life. The object is not to change other people or situations; it's to do the inner work they stimulate.”

- Wally Amos

I’ve noticed the new school takes a lot of field trips. In my first five weeks at the school, I’d been on two and there had been four more in the middle school. I like field trips as much as the students because not only do I get a day away from teaching but I also get to know the kids on a different level. Bonding.

I have one tough group. It’s smaller than the other classes, but there are many students on educational plans and a few of them have emotional issues. After a few weeks, I got some sort of handle on discipline, so now I’m able to focus on students who aren’t getting their work done. At all.

One student in particular just doesn’t want to work. His mother was the first parent I called. For three days he didn’t come with his textbook or his notebook and I was fed up. He said his mother’s phone had been disconnected. It wasn’t. Other teachers told me the parent said the right things but didn’t always follow up with her child, but it was worth trying anyway. It’s my job.

After the call, there was some improvement. He brought in his books even if he didn’t always write much down. One day after much cajoling, he actually got a worksheet nearly done. Triumph-ish.

The problem is this class is like the whack-a-mole game. Most need support, but when I don’t focus on the group, the ones I’m not helping at any given moment are likely to go astray. Parent calls have helped, but this class could use more than one teacher in the room to help with the academics.

The day we took a test, this boy refused to take it.

I asked what was wrong. (“Nothing.”)

I offered to read the questions. (“No.”)

After three tries, I sent him to the assistant principal’s office. It was my first sending as an extended term sub. He told the assistant principal another student had taken something of his in an earlier class and he was upset about it. I wish he’d told me.

He promised to take the test the next day. The next day, he didn’t show up.

The following class day was the field trip. He came. In homeroom, I walked over to him and told him I was glad he was here for the field trip and that we’d make up the test during next school day. He agreed.

On the subway he began talking to me. He told me about his weekend (“Crappy.”) and about his interests and people in his family and all sorts of stuff. And as he spoke, I wondered if I’d judged him too harshly. I’d only gotten to know him as a slacker rather than a human being. I vowed to build more relationships with my students.

The day after the field trip, the students were doing a handout. He refused to do it. And he hadn’t brought his textbook and notebook.

So much for bonding…

I realize it’s going take more than a field trip to turn things around for this boy. His problems extend well beyond the scope of my classroom. It will take more than just me to reach this student. In the beginning, I didn’t know he also suffered from anxiety. Now I approach him in a different way.

Each day, that difficult class has gotten better for me. I no longer break out in cold sweats in the middle of the night, wondering how to deal with them. I’ve made a list of rules and consequences. After I handed out the list, the students tested me.

That night I called five parents.

The students now know I mean business. I don’t want to be a yeller. Besides, on a petite female I’d incite as much fear as a yapping dog. I want the students to know I want them to do well. I care about them. But if they don’t work, if the talk and misbehave, I’m calling home. I’ll even keep them in for recess.

Will this continue to work? I have no idea.

One thing I’ve learned is that what works one day, doesn’t necessarily work the next day or with the next class. I knew this from student teaching, but had been spoiled my years in a fifth-grade classroom with the same students all day.

The field trip was an eye-opener not just with this one student, but several. After the play, we ate at Faneuil Hall. A few students gave to the Salvation Army. One student bought a “Spare Change” newspaper from a homeless person. A new student was sent to school without lunch or money for the field trip. A teacher gave him the money for both. I paid for a student who didn’t have a drink. Near the end of the field trip, one student admitted she had no money so she hadn’t eaten lunch. I bought her a meal.

Each student has a story. While I may not know all 90+ of their stories, I’m paying more attention. Field trips are a great way to step out of the academic relationship and get to know them in a different way. I hope it makes a difference.


  1. Thank you for sharing. I've been on both ends if these situations, both helping in clasrooms and being the lost student. The teachers who were willing to work with my situation have stayed with me through the years as they'd be hard to forget. Unfortunately there were also a few who labeled me wrong and made success an impossibility.

  2. You are doing great work in a difficult job Theresa.

    I think your posts shows the importance of investing resources into early childhood education--that is where the foundation is built as their is only so much a teacher can do later.

  3. Never underestimate the difference one person can make. I'm glad these kids have a supportive, caring teacher like you in their lives - it sounds like many of them really need it. And keep calling those parents! I think it's great that you've given the kids consequences and are following through.

  4. Theresa, you have already made a difference for that boy anyway, just listening to him. He is lucky to have you. We all have to realise that even the smallest efforts can change a childs life for the better, we just need to keep trying.
    If only every school had a Theresa.

  5. This is what's wrong with the academic system in our country --

    There are not enough teachers like you!

    That boy will remember you for the rest of his life. Even if he doesn't do another thing for you, he'll always know you cared.

    And perhaps, as he suffers from anxiety, he might have issues with doing the work for fear he'll get it wrong. Anxiety is crippling. Maybe he needs professional help?

  6. Theresa, this touched me on so many levels. I have a son who, when he was in public school was labeled as a boy who was lazy and didn't care. He lost or forgot things all of the time and he took forever to do anything that involved writing. His grades made him look stupid, but he was actually a really intelligent kid. We finally found out that in addition to being a little bit ADD, he had a visual trackig problem which made it almost impossible for him to copy things from the board onto a piece of paper. (He also can't read cursive writing- many teachers wrote their notes in cursive.) Some teachers believed us and others still thought he was just lazy.
    Thank you for trying to figure out what it is that makes each of your students tick. They will always remember you just for caring.

  7. You know a few years down the line that kid would say you changed his life even if he does not recognize that fact now.

  8. I'm so impressed by your dedication and kindness. It's got to be such a rough experience, but it sounds like you're really thinking out your problems and finding solutions. I hope you keep breaking through with that little boy!

  9. You are making a difference! Wow, Theresa. I hope each day gets better and you're able to get through to your students more and more. So challenging! But it sounds like you're making great progress.

  10. I was so naive until I started teaching. Some kids have rough lives at home or just not any parent support. That makes school that much tougher.
    You sound like a very caring teacher!

  11. It is amazing to hear about your work as a teacher, substitute or otherwise. I don't know many people who could persevere in the situations you describe. I know I couldn't. I think every parent should spend a few days in the teacher's shoes so that they can learn to appreciate how important teachers are to all of us. You rock.

  12. Those kids are lucky to have you. It sounds like you're doing a great job!

  13. You sound like a wonderful teacher, Theresa! I teach one school-within-a-school class, so I know exactly what you're dealing with. It is difficult and frustrating. Hang in there. :-)

  14. You are totally making a difference! Even if you don't reap the rewards immediately, you are touching lives every day.

  15. I just know that this student will always remember you!! I say this because I still remember the nice teachers I've had throughout my educational life. I may not remember their names but I remember why I remember them!! I hope that makes sense!! I think you really are so making a difference in these kids' lives - acts of kindness and love always do! Take care

  16. @ Anne, the mother of this boy doesn't seem to be supporting her son. When I've called with my concerns, nothing changes. I'm not sure what's going to happen to him.

    Being on both sides, I know you understand.

    @ Slamdunk, I agree. The older the students get, the harder it is to catch them up.

    @ Susan, I hope you're right. There are too many who don't seem to care. I'll keep trying.

    @ Brigid, you're sweet. There are a lot of good teachers at the school who are on these students too.

    @ Anne G, I believe he does get help on that front. I know he gets quite a bit of academic support as well.

  17. @ Linda, I'm sure the problem with your son and unsupportive teachers must've been frustrating for you. Since I have so many parents who won't help, I find it surprising when teachers aren't doing their part.

    @ Joanna, I hope he realizes how many of us tried to make a difference.

    @ Meredith, thank you. Some of these students are so big I have to remind myself of how young they really are.

    @ Jamie, thanks. I'm trying!

    @ Kelly, it's sad to see children this young just give up. They don't see education as a way to get out of their lousy situations.

  18. @ Judy, it's really a lot. I'm glad you see it. It's like performing on stage several times a day, plus planning and grading. And parents calls and so on.

    @ Lisa, thank you. I hope so.

    @ Shannon, I'm so impressed with people who do what you do.

    @ Bossy Betty, it's good to hear that. I hope it's true.

    @ Old Kitty, I don't remember all my teachers names but certain lessons they taught me or some specific kindness does stick.

  19. You're a great person, Theresa. I really admire that. Good luck with the students!

  20. This is what I think one of the biggest flaws of the public school system is: you simply can't give every student the one-on-one interaction and help they might need! It sounds like you're doing a fantastic job, but it's easy to see why many teachers would get frustrated and just focus on the students who do what they are supposed to. It's so much work for the teacher. Good for you (and thank you) for giving it your all!

  21. It's so wonderful of you to keep trying in a situation that other might give up on, labeling the boy a lost cause.

    Parents should hope their kids end up with a teacher like you.

  22. It DOES make a difference. :o) They might not show it right away, but no kindness on a child is ever wasted. They are so very precious, this future generation.

    Thanks for sharing! I needed a reality check to day.


    ~ Jackee

  23. Oh, this post brought back so many memories from when I was teaching. I too had one really difficult group and I used to stress all day and night about them. It was so easy to see them collectively as 'difficult' but when I got to know a few of them individually, it made a difference... eventually.

  24. Not that I was a bad kid or anything but if my teachers had taken away recess or even went so far as to cancel a field trip, I'd be Miss Goody Two Shoes from then on out.

    This ordeal reminds me of my brother. He's a pain in the butt but really sweet and gentlemanly when he wants to be and when he feels as if he's loved and cared for. And if he can be that way, then any kid can be, proof that improvement can be made. :)

  25. You are the best teacher ever!! It is crazy how kids can have such dual personalities. My younger siblings must have been that way to their teachers. Props to you for having the patience to see the good sides!

  26. There's a lot of good teaching going on here: phoning parents about concerns, listening to students' stories, seeking ways outside the classroom to connect in vital ways. Well done.

  27. @ Angie, thank you. I thought I was showing all of my shortcomings.

    @ Kari, thanks. I wish I could fast forward three years into a job so all of this would be easier for me. I'd have a really good handle on material and could focus on the students even more.

    @ Kelly, that's sweet. The boy is trying to make himself a lost cause, so it's really frustrating.

    @ Jackee, oh no. What's going on with you?

    @ Talli, difficult groups - it's just... you know, difficult. It's like bracing yourself for the worst everyday. I'm glad you got to a better place. Eventually.

    @ Amanda, good point. I fear there's too much neglect and/or instability going on in these homes.

    @ Saumya, you're really over-complimenting me!

    I'm sure I have students like your brothers. There are those who are endearingly chatty. And then frustratingly chatty.

    @ Paul, C, thank you. I appreciate it.

  28. That's sad that some of the students couldn't afford to eat lunch, but at least they had nice teachers like you to help them.
    As far as that boy you described, it sounds like you're right about how his issues extend beyond the classroom. It's hard to work with someone who won't meet you halfway.

  29. I have a really hard time finding the balance between discipline and compassion. I want to hold my students accountable, but I don't want to be too hard on them. It's tough because each student is different; there's not just one blanket approach.

  30. Hi Theresa .. sounds as though you're getting the balance right .. great learning information here for us all - there's always difficult people out there, even if they're not kids!

    I 'enjoyed' this .. really good stuff - thanks for posting and I'm sure the kids, parents and will come to appreciate you. My thoughts for the rest of the term .. enjoy it - Hilary

  31. @ Neurotic, you're right. When someone refuses to meet me, it's like trying to canoe upstream without a paddle. Is that how the saying goes?

    We have a field trip tomorrow, which is more expensive than usual. I wonder what will happen money-wise.

    @ MIssed Periods, I agree. I've seen teachers with blanket approaches. Those students just get left behind.

    @ Hilary, I'm trying to get the balance right. Right now, I just can't wait for the holiday break!

  32. I can only strive to be as conscientious in my own profession.

    Thanks for being yourself! : j

  33. What a great post! You just described the life of teacher. Holy cow.

    I love where you say, "Each student has a story." because that's so true.

  34. You seem to be taking the challenges in your stride. I think the approach you have taken is the reason too. Learning more about the students, what their stories are and their challenges. Well done Theresa, you sound like the type of teacher that will stick in a child's memory.

  35. @ Alesa, thank you for the compliment. But I think when you spend your day with people under 18, it comes with a different feeling of responsibility than any other job I've ever had.

    @ Elana, thanks for the high praise from a fellow teacher. I'm glad you could relate to the post.

    @ Ann, I agonize over my challenges. Perhaps they sound easier in retrospect. I hope I'm making a positive impact.

  36. Hi Theresa, in my hands right now is an old Harlequin Presents THE Price of Deceit, where the heroine in facing the same problem! The little girl is heros daughter but he doesn't want to listen to the teacher!
    And I opened your blog, guess what? The same problem!
    You're the best because you care enough about those students.

  37. @ Nas Dean, what a coincidence!

    You're sweet. Thank you.

  38. Hmm... No doubt the responsibilities of a person in charge of the well-being of others (whatever their age) are heavier to shoulder than some others, but I can't imagine you being anything less than fully committed to what you are doing. In fact I don't need to imagine it, we've read, through your blog, how diligently you go about everything you do.

    Naturally, the degree differs with the subject, but the fact remains.
    It's something I appreciate greatly in others and something I try to maintain within myself.

  39. Alesa, I do tend to take my jobs too seriously, which I got from my father. But when I know it's kids' education I'm in charge of and the added pressure of the chance they won't behave gives me more stress.

  40. Stuff like this is what worries me about the kids that come through our center.

    We had one child who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, another with extreme ADHD. At least those parents recognized and got help for their children, which will help them, I hope, in school.

    We had another set of parents that simply blame everyone and everything else instead of taking responsibility (they're amazingly inconsistent and mom refuses to ever, ever be the 'bad guy' and refuses to discipline the child at all). The child is wild, aggressive, defiant, and affectionate, funny, sweet....and, without some help, is going to be one of those children you're talking about.

    It breaks my heart to think of all the kids out there without someone like you to care for them.....

    Praying for your continued strength and determination. *applauding* You're a star!

  41. That is a completely foreign world for me. I ALWAYS did my homework. ALWAYS had my books/notes/folders. I NEVER refused to do anything. *gasp* I didn't know it was possible.

    How frustrating. Although, I thought you were going to make him take the test before he could go on the field trip. I was just waiting for the ultimate teacher payback!

  42. @ The Words Crafter, parents make a huge difference. If they're providing structure, security, then children have a better chance.

    Sounds like you deal with a lot at your place. I remember your heart-breaking story about that one little boy. You're a star!

    @ Vicki, I wasn't the most diligent student until college, but I never got sent to the principal's office and I never would've talked back to a teacher.

    I couldn't have kept him behind. The field trip was important to see - a good learning experience. He hadn't done anything so horrible to lose a field trip. He'd been upset about another student and had a hard time communicating and then he'd been sick the next day and through the weekend.