I can still remember bumping into Kevin’s Kindergarten teacher in the bustling cafeteria one week before school started during our first teacher-in-service day of the year. Like most teachers, I had excitedly awaited my class list with a permanent marker in hand so that I could begin labeling all kinds of classroom items! When Kevin’s teacher asked about my class roster and saw his name she quickly exclaimed, “You’ve got Kevin in your class this year? Ha! Good luck with him! He’s so bad!”
You’ve probably experienced some kind of conversation like this before about one of your students. Even though there are some students who are more challenging than others, each time I hear another teacher say something like this it breaks my heart because every child deserves someone in his corner that believes in him!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my share of challenging students and have shed many a tear after hard days when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. Yet, I have found that it’s usually these “bad” kids that are asking for help in the most unloving ways. I believe that every child that is placed in our classroom has been placed there for a reason and that it is our job as teachers to be their biggest advocates! We cannot give up on them! Here are some ways that we can help students, like Kevin, succeed in our classrooms:
- Watch our language: Let’s begin by changing the way we talk about students—we should stop labeling kids as “bad” or “good.” There are no bad kids. Yes, there are kids who choose to make bad choices or have learned bad behaviors, but every child is of great worth and is capable of success!
- Speak truth into the child’s life: Our words are powerful, because they reflect our beliefs and can become the soundtrack that plays in our student’s heart and mind. We need to make sure we speak truth into our student’s life, especially our students that are struggling. When I first had Kevin in our classroom, he would tell me the reason he made bad choices was because “he was a bad kid.” He had heard so many people refer to him as the “bad kid” that he had begun to believe the lie that that was who he was. So, I spent months working with him and each morning spoke truth into his life that I believed in him, and that he was a good kid and was capable of making good choices! Change didn’t happen overnight, but eventually we began to see changes in Kevin’s behavior. I’ll never forget the day that I pulled him aside after he was having a hard time with making good choices. I asked him what was going on and he said “I’m believing the lie.” Truth always wins out against lies!
- Give kids a fresh start: One of the beautiful things about having a new teacher every school year is that it gives all of us a fresh start. Yes, there are years and classes that are more challenging than others, but every year and every day should start with fresh grace. We need it and our kids need it. Kids like Kevin, often need it the most. You may be the only champion your student has in his life right now. Let them know they are loved and a valuable part of the classroom.
- Find the positive: I promise it is there, and the positive needs to be acknowledged and celebrated! One of the best pieces of advice I got from my principal during my first year of teaching was to make your first parent contact positive, because often there will be tough calls and conversations needed in the future. So, for students like Kevin I made sure to make a positive call home the first day or two of school. It’s also important throughout the year to shine light on the positives with the student and with his family!
- Be consistent: Some days will be hard and you will leave work feeling like you can’t make it one more day, but students like Kevin need you to not give up on them. They need your consistent love and support, even when it feels like progress isn’t being made. Change doesn’t happen overnight and tomorrow is a fresh start. Seeds don’t become flowers overnight—they take lots of time, love, and hard work to grow. Progress can be painfully slow, but don’t give up, and keep watering your student’s heart with truth.
- Ask for help: Please know you are not alone in this! Some students need more support than what we can give in our classrooms and that is okay. It’s the beauty of teamwork and of having experts in different areas within our schools. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from other professionals in your school who have training and resources that they can offer to help.