Every teacher has students that are unforgettable. I don’t know how it is for other teachers, but I find the ones that are the most unforgettable are the ones that I feel I let down.
Sometimes, there was nothing more that I could have done but the outcome still felt like a failure – a student who died of an overdose, a student who ended up in prison, a student who committed suicide. It’s been a number of years since I saw them, but they each occupy a space in my heart and mind. I suspect that they always will.
Sometimes, though, there are the ones for whom I know I just wasn’t a good enough teacher. Each one of these was one of “those” kids who seem to exhibit so many of the symptoms of ADHD but who aren’t on medication and who are not getting behavior modification. They are the kids who are impulsive, who blurt out in class constantly, who pull their classmates off task, who are in constant motion. They are the kids who get into fist fights and eventually end up expelled from school.
I’ve had exactly four of “those” kids. Each one is unforgettable. At first, I didn’t have enough experience to recognize what was behind the behavior and so I didn’t do the things they needed. With the second and third student, I could see what was happening but couldn’t figure out how to make things work. They did all the things that would drive me crazy and I wanted them to control the behavior but they couldn’t. Each time I had one of those kids, I was not a good enough teacher. This year, though, “that” kid is not driving me crazy and is successful in my class.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to really like “that” kid. When he blurted out, I just raised a hand towards him and moved on. I told him that each kid gets x% of the air time and he has used up his share until everyone else speaks. When he finished before the rest of the group, I let him get up and move around. There are comics on different walls that he could walk around and read while he waited. so long as he rejoined his group when they were ready. When he needed to wiggle or move while he was still working, he could push or pull on a theraband tied across his desk with his feet to release that energy.
When “that” kid acted inappropriately, I was clear about the boundary. When he insisted that he hadn’t done anything, I took him out in the hall. I told him, “We both know what you did. No, let me finish what I am saying and then you can talk. I want you to be in my class. Every. Single. Day. You were just in trouble because of what happened in another class. I don’t want you to be in trouble again. I want you to be in here. So, I need you to make a better choice.” He responded, “OK.” Then, we turned around and went back in class. I didn’t get drawn into a confrontation or argument about whether he did or did not do something. I let this student know the boundaries, but I started by letting him know that I care about him and want him in my class.
None of this is earth shattering or brilliant, but it feels powerful because I have grown a little bit as a teacher. I really do like “that” student and he is more successful because he knows that. He will be one of my unforgettable students because I feel like I didn’t let him down.