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?