“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.