The “B” Word

Today after one of my classes, a student approached me to ask when I was going to make a new seating chart because the boys in her group talk too much.  After dropping this tidbit that I was already aware of, she lowered her voice and said, “And they call you the b-word.”  If she was shocked by their behavior, she was equally shocked by my response, which boiled down to, “Hm. Really?”.  Her eyes widened, “I would cry if someone called me the b-word.  I’m a cry-baby.  Aren’t you upset?”

Six years ago I would have been upset, or if it came from a great student whose opinion I particularly valued, I would have been upset.  Except it’s never those students who call their teacher a bitch; it’s the student like the one today. It’s the one who does the bare minimum and that minimum could be classified as crappy.  It’s the one who tries to text in class and gets mad when he gets caught.It’s the one who tries to sleep, cop attitude, and toe the line.  The fact that he calls his teacher a bitch is rather par for the course (I’m not trying to stereotype students, but the ones who have called me a bitch or said “Fuck you” to me were consistent problems in all of their classes).

One thing that teaching has taught me is that when students do this, it’s not about me.  If I were a mean, unaccommodating teacher that strived to make students feel bad, then I would deserve the title, but I don’t.  It’s about them, and the fact that on some level they’re not getting what they want.  One kid called me a bitch after I helped him on a LATE project (I bent my rules so he could turn it in to pass the class), and he basically wanted me to do it for him.  He was upset when I wouldn’t.  Another told me “Fuck you” on the same day I threw celebration for the class for doing well on the high school exit exam.  What offensive thing did I say?  “Remember, your homework tonight is read pages….”  In both those cases I took disciplinary action.  In this case, I only have student hearsay.  Instead, as I create my new seating chart, I will put the ring-leader right in front of me.  He’s not going to like it very much, and there’s a chance I won’t like it very much either.

However, he and other students like him are the ones I need to work with on building a connection, and I can’t do that if he’s in the back with his back toward me.  Right now he’s fairly isolated in the room and far away, and it’s only because of my concerned student that I know the full extent of his behaviors.  If he’s in front of me, I can see everything he’s doing.  I can ask him more questions or engage him in conversation– he’s a Steeler’s fan and football season is starting soon; he will be a good resource as I pick my fantasy team.  He is currently building a wall against me, and since I have him for the rest of the term, it’s my responsibility to try and break it down.  It’s often the students who rebel who need us the most, and I’ve seen “bad” students turn good, or at least tolerable.  It’s possible. On the flip side, if he calls me a bitch again, he’s right where I can hear him.

Teachers: What strategies do you use with students who are defiant or have poor attitudes?

24 thoughts on “The “B” Word

  1. From reading this post, I can tell that you are a veteran teacher. For every kid who says, “You are the best!” there is one who says, “I hate you.” You hint at the truth… there is background to the feelings. By having integrity and holding to what you feel is best, then you are doing your best. You are not a b&$%#. As far as my strategies go, you are on the right track. You seem to be doing what works for you. After reading your blog, I think I am similar to you. (It just took me longer to learn the lessons you already know.)

    1. Thanks! Doing what we feel is best is sometimes hard in the classroom– especially when you hear about what others do or have a certain ideal that you think you need to live up to. For me, I think it boils down to how I wish to be treated, and I try to treat my kids accordingly. Having a discussion with other teachers about how to handle discipline problems or trouble students is so important– I have seen way too many kids who are consistently punished because their teachers have an “all or nothing” approach. I appreciate your input!

  2. When I can’t prove it and take disciplinary action, I’ve done what you did – sit the kid right in front of me! One time, I pulled a small disruptive group aside and told them it didn’t seem like they were enjoying the class and asked them to think of one or two things that might make it more interesting for them (and I said they needed to think of something I might actually do or allow – not some off the wall thing). That worked well – I think they wanted to do a creative project. My first year, I intercepted a note that made a mean pun about me out of my last name. I resorted to the standard “If you put this much creativity into your homework …” – that was actually pretty fun for me. 🙂

    1. I really like how you worked with the disruptive group– you acknowledged there was a problem and worked toward a solution. I may use that strategy on my boy tomorrow. Sometimes I do enjoy “scolding” kids a la “if you put this much creativity into your homework…”. It’s fun to watch them squirm just because we all know they’re in trouble or in a sticky spot. It’s kind of like having a sports commentator in my head reporting on each of our moves.

  3. That’s really difficult to take, from students who should respect you..I must say that we should be forgiving and take it as something about their personality….

    1. Yes, we should be forgiving, and I am. I don’t think personality should be an excuse for disrespect– people and kids should learn how to be respectful– even if they have a rude personality. It’s just part of life, but I know what you mean, not everyone is going to have a nice and kind personality.

  4. I know someone who is one of these. In fact, I would go as far as to say the child is worse. Infractions include drinking on school grounds, intimidating other students, intimidating teachers, physical violence against students and teachers. Verbally abusive. The school keeps giving this child chances, anyone else would have been permanently excluded. I know this child personally, so I know it is not the parenting, as the mother’s other child is completely different. This child has been arrested several times (I have had to be the responsible adult) has appeared in court and has been threatened with prison. Oh, and the child has just had a thirteenth birthday

    1. Oh that is so scary. Has the child been tested for mental illness or chemical imbalance? It seems odd that he would be so aggressive and violent at so young an age (I know it happens, but I always wonder how they get to that point). I can’t imagine what it must be like to be his mother and being/feeling powerless to do anything to help him.

      1. The child has Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD, but there again, so do a lot of other children. I can understand to some extent some of the things the child does, but that doesn’t excuse selling drugs, assaulting the parent, going out with a blade or … can’t remember the name of it when someone threatens somebody to give them money

  5. Amy! 😮 phew. You know what. Teachers sometimes hold a grudge against these kind of students! Good teachers even. They stop putting in their effort to tame them or anything. But it is so like you not to give up! Bravo. Sending hugs your way!

  6. I am not a teacher so obviously I don’t have the kind of experience with this sort of thing that you do. But I did coach high school cheerleading for a stint and always tried to remind myself that not everyone was going to like me all of the time. Good for you for making an effort to connect with this boy. Good luck!

    1. Coaching cheerleading is demanding! I couldn’t imagine doing that. Sometimes I want to do a lesson with my students about real life and school. That we’re not here to be friends– they’re not going to be pals with many of their co-workers or their boss, and they don’t have to like their teachers, just learn from them. A lot of students will not do any work if they don’t like their teacher, and I have to remind them that that’s not the point. They’re there to learn, not be part of a popularity contest. As for the boy, it went much better today; I got a better idea about his learning style and habits.

  7. That’s a good first step. He definitely needs the attention. I know some kids are just brats, but most of the ones acting out are really asking for help and have no other way to articulate it. It’s also good to separate the ring-leader from the rest. I’d even go so far as to separate some of the others.

    1. Everyone got new seats today and are separated. Today went a lot better. I think some kids are so used to negative attention that they don’t know how to get positive attention– as you said, they have no way to articulate it. Some just do it to toe the line. One term I separated a boy from everyone because he just couldn’t be part of a group. He eventually got the point.

    1. Thanks! I moved him today and he was fine– stayed on task and everything. It allowed me to zero in on a couple of other students, too. A lot of student issues can be taken care of pretty quickly if they’re tackled head on and in a positive manner. Sometimes they just have to know where the limit is.

  8. This probably wouldn’t fly from teacher to student, but I have a pat response to being called a bitch, which is a puzzled-sounding “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Fortunately it’s not something that happens much in my life.

    1. Oh, I wish I could say that! That would be so satisfying. Like you, those moments are few and far between (or maybe it would happen more often if I could hear…). 🙂

  9. Wow. I taught undergraduate English for three years, and there’s no way I could have handled a student calling me a bitch. You are amazingly resilient and patient–the students are lucky to have you.

    1. Thank you. The first time a student called me one, I was hurt and shocked, and really wanted to lay into him. He was a tough guy, but said it when my back was turned. It took everything I had to not say, “Oh, you’re such a tough guy, huh? So tough that you can’t even say it to my face?! Yeah, that’s brave.” You can see why I bit my tongue. But ultimately, who knows why kids do what they do– they’re a mixed bag with emotions and feelings and pain they don’t know what to do with. Are you still teaching English?

      1. No, I only did it while I was getting my MFA. I get too nervous in front of crowds of 20-year-olds. Although I always found the one-on-one conferences with students and small group workshops to be really rewarding.

      2. I agree. It is so much better when you can give a person individualized time. You can get to the root of their problem, give them proper strategies, and see their improvement. I had the chance to teach and tutor during grad school, and the conferences were the most fun. Teaching high school, I feel like I reach only those who want to improve.

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