Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Five Types of Unlovable Students (and How to Love Them Anyway)

It's no secret: I adore my kids.  I'm a teacher, in large part,  because I just like kids and want them to succeed.  But let's just be real for a minute-- sometimes, there's that kid. No matter how hard you try, you just don't like that kid.  For whatever reason, that kid just drives you up the wall.  Because you're a rational person, you decide that you're going to deal and get past whatever personal issue you have.  But it's hard.  While it's not necessary for us to love our kids in order to teach them, I think it certainly helps.  I have worked with a number of those kids over the years, and I'm proud to say that I think most (if not all) of them have no idea that I ever disliked them.  I like to think that I have a special skill for hiding my distaste, and even turning it into a real appreciation for my kids.  Here are five kinds of kids I sometimes find "unlovable," and how I manage to get around it and love them anyway.

1. The Slug

The Slug is characterized by a lack of traits rather than a list of them.  S/he never has homework, textbooks, pencils, paper, drive, work ethic, thoughts, ideas, eye contact, responsibility, or a clue.  Slugs don't even bother to make up excuses; they just shrug or look away when asked about their work.  

How to Love Them:
Slugs usually lack effort because, quite frankly, they lack self-worth.  Many of them have been told countless times (either verbally or indirectly) that they are stupid, lazy, or otherwise unimportant.  Many of them lack parents who care, teachers who care, or even friends.  And we expect them to care about themselves even when no one else does?  To fix a Slug, pay attention to her.  Get on her case.  Nag her about her homework; sit with her while she writes; do whatever it takes.  If a Slug thinks you don't care, he'll never change.  Show him you care about him, about his life, and I promise you, he'll come around.  Most likely, you'll find yourself loving that reformed Slug before it's over with.

2. The Desk-Stander
Desk-Standers are, in many ways, the total opposite of Slugs.  Rather than avoiding your eyes, Desk-Standers seek them out.  In fact, you'll probably find yourself dodging eye contact.  Desk-Standers are often good students, but they won't seem to stop standing at your desk.  A Desk-Stander wants to tell you about his entire day, even down to the breakfast foods he ate.  A Desk-Stander will read twelve chapters ahead in the class novel, just so that she can chat with you about it before class.  She also wants to know all about your day.  Every day.  If you need to quickly catch up on grading or email between classes, you're out of luck with a Desk-Stander around.

How to Love Them:
Despite their behavioral differences, Desk-Standers actually have a lot in common with Slugs.  Desk-Standers are starved for attention; I find that they usually are a bit neglected at home.  They may also lack friends, so they feel a need to connect with someone, and that someone happens to be you-- the nearest adult who has to be kind to them.  Desk-Standers also lack self-worth, but unlike Slugs, they need you to reaffirm it for them.  To love a Desk-Stander, make eye contact, even if it's the last thing you want to do.  Listen.  Share something yourself.  Eventually, your patience will pay off, and the Desk-Stander will feel validated and will (hopefully) look to peers for conversation, rather than to you.

3. The Eye-Roller

The Eye-Roller is tricky.  Like Love, Teach's Smirker, the Eye-Roller is difficult to discipline, because there isn't really a crime committed.  He glares openly at you, even when all your other kids are rapt with attention at the fabulous lesson you've planned.  An Eye-Roller (shocker!!) rolls her eyes at everything you say and do.  Honestly, it'll probably hurt your feelings more than you'd care to admit.  Every student in the classroom can be beaming at you, but one sullen stink-eyed Eye-Roller can ruin your entire mood.

How to Love Them:
Here's the thing; it's not about you.  As difficult as it is to deal with, every teacher must learn to stop taking things so personally.  Really, teenagers are sullen sometimes.  It's hormones, boys/girls, friend drama, etc. Not you.  As my second-grade teacher said, "Kill them with kindness."  For every roll of the eyes, give the Eye-Roller your best smile.  Eventually, you might get one back.

4. The Blurter

Somewhat similar to the Desk-Stander, the Blurter desperately needs attention.  The difference?  While the Desk-Stander seeks positive attention from you, the Blurter seeks any kind of attention from anyone who will give it.  The Blurter loves being late, because that means she can burst loudly into class, screaming a ridiculous excuse for her tardy.  If you ever ask, "Are there any questions?" . . . you'd better be prepared if you have a Blurter. He will have questions; that's for sure. A Blurter also loves to interrupt class with random off-topic musings, like, "Hey, Teacher, I like your shirt today." 

How to Love Them:
Blurters need your attention-- to a point.  I like to give them a few minutes (at the beginning or end of class) to get my full attention.  I listen to their stories, answer their questions, and then?  They have to be still and cooperative in class.  Honestly, once Blurters get a little undivided attention, they're usually satisfied.  It's also a good idea to seat Blurters with others who are not amused by their blurts.  The other kids can help keep them in line. 

5. The Spoon
Spoons are probably the "unlovable students" I struggle with the most, because they fly completely in the face of my classroom motto of "Be nice or leave."  Spoons, as you might suspect, stir the pot.  You may also hear them referred to as Drama Queens or Kings.  Spoons know (or think they know) something about everyone, and they love to share.  I have a pretty strict anti-gossip and drama policy in class, but Spoons just ignore it.  A typical interaction with a Spoon, for me, usually involves me gently reminding him of the rules.  Thirty seconds later, I realize that he's back at it.  Spoons often fail to realize that they are, in fact, Spoons.  They somehow see themselves as public informants or detectives. This makes it really difficult to convince them to stop their behavior.  

How to Love Them:
Spoons, like anyone else, need attention.  Their own lives haven't provided enough material (in their opinion) for conversation, so they must discuss the lives of others.  Once I recognize a Spoon in my room, I listen carefully to her conversations and make sure I constantly nip it in the bud.  The Spoon sees me as the devil incarnate, constantly on her back.  Then, I start taking an obvious interest in the Spoon.  I ask about her weekend, but end the conversation immediately if she tries to discuss anything other than her own life.  After enough conversations like this, the Spoon usually gets it.  Eventually, at least in my room, the Spoon is reformed and I can love him/her like all the others.  

What is your most unlovable type of student?

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