I had to do something quick otherwise I was going to kill her and the rest of the class would lift me up on their shoulders celebrating my action. She was loud, negative, whiny, abrasive, and rude. I broke out in hives at the sight of her, especially when she came up to me with yet another frustrating conversation that went along these lines:
Her: I don’t get it.
Me: What don’t you get?
Her, swinging her hands over her work: This.
Her: I don’t get what you want me to do.
Me, hiding my frustration since I already explained it five times to the class: Did you read the directions?
Her: Ugh. You mean you want me to read this? I have to read this? I need a pencil. Get me a pencil.
Me, imagining sticking a pencil in her eye….
Everything for her was a battle and the other students rolled their eyes whenever she spoke. Everything was a demand or a burden. I could see that she needed help in my class, but I didn’t want to help her. She was THAT annoying, and it wasn’t just me, her other teachers had the same complaint. I, as I’m sure they did also, just wanted to scream at her “Stay away from me!” I really didn’t know how I was going to survive her for the whole term. I couldn’t lock her in a cupboard and ignore her or feed her to the wolves. Something had to be done soon. I asked to speak to her after class.
She made loud disgruntled noises as she stood in front of me. I smiled and calmed the compulsion to reach out and clobber her.
“Chan,” I began soothingly, “do people often say no to you when you ask for something?” She paused, furrowed her brow and nodded. I continued, “I think it might be in your approach. You see, if you were to ask for things nicely, I bet you would get what you want.” She looked intrigued. “A good way to get what you want is to say hello to the other person first, ask them how they are, then ask for what you want. Make sure you smile, too. That helps.”
She actually, for once, was really interested in what I was saying, “If I do that then people will say yes?”
I nodded adding, “Absolutely! Maybe they won’t say yes to everything, but you’ll get more of them. Feel free to try it out on me!”
The next day she barged into the room, dumped her bag on the desk, and stormed up to me, “I need paper!” Then I think she saw me grimace, because she backed away and said, “Let me start over.” She walked up to me calmly, stopped, plastered a smile on her face and proceeded with, “Good morning, Ms. L. How are you today?” I smiled back with, “I’m fine. How are you?” “I’m fine, too. May I have some paper, please?” I opened my cupboard, “Why certainly! I’d be happy to get you some paper. Thank you for asking so nicely.”
This is how it went for a couple of weeks: she’d begin to make a demand, stop, put on a smile, ask about my well-being, and so on. Finally asking nicely became a natural habit. She stopped getting glares from her peers. We worked together on how to ask good questions about her assignments that would get the response that she needed from her teachers. This snowballed into her actually doing some of her work. As a junior she had my class again and was one the most positive kids there. She continued to get eye rolls from her peers, but this time it was from always volunteering to read or answer a question. She was by no means the best reader or the brightest student, but I would take this version of her any day. When she was a senior and had a different teacher, she often visited me, and I was struck by her confidence.
It’s easy to forget that some of our kids are rude and negative because they literally don’t know how to be nice and polite; no one has shown them how. It’s easy to dismiss them as just rude kids, and while some of them genuinely are, but many of them, once they know that you want the best for them, shape up into decent people. This doesn’t always work, sometimes a butthead is a butthead is a butthead; however, when it works, it’s amazing to see their transformation. This is not in my encyclopedia of standards a la No Child Left Behind, but this type knowledge, to me, is more important than the ability to identify a gerund.