Adventures of a Student Teacher: Sometimes, this is Amazing

I saw a teacher do something today that I have so far not been able to achieve: sit down with students, get through the defensive, ‘you can’t make me do anything’ wall they put up, and get them talking about their goals, hopes, and dreams. The teacher in question was a substitute who was filling in for the teacher I usually work with. During a study assistance period there was a student who had been sent to us because he had yet to turn in one assignment in his social studies class. I watched as this substitute teacher (who had grown up in Costa Rica) sat down, asked the student what he was supposed to working on, and then simply began talking to him. Not about school, not about how he needed to get this work done if he wanted to graduate (which is what most teachers were saying to him anyway), but about his interests and goals. It turns out that this student, who so seldom spoke in class or made eye contact with teachers, was a musician. He didn’t want to play music professionally, but he thought he could be a music teacher and train kids who might make it in the music industry. He had actually applied to a few schools and been accepted to one, but had decided not to go. The teacher then said to him, “follow your heart. Do what makes you happy. You can do anything, but you’re going to have to work for it. Starting with this project.” And you know what happened? He opened his computer, started typing, and was almost finished with the assignment by the time the period ended.

Image credit: NY Times Magazine

During the last block of the day I saw this teacher use the same tactics to diffuse a situation that, in many cases, could have lead to the suspension of the student in question. The problem had started earlier in the day, when the student had an argument with his girlfriend. The conflict continued in my history class, which they were both in. She wanted to do her work, but he wanted to talk about whatever it was that had lead to their argument. The male student became more and more agitated: he stormed out of the room, came back, sat down, slammed his book on his desk, stood back up. Before I could intervene, the substitute teacher sat down next to him and said they were going to talk through this. She started telling a story about her childhood in Costa Rica, and about her mother always telling her to think positively. She told the student that “negative thoughts will never get you anywhere. Now tell me, how is being angry going to make this day any better for you?” They continued talking, working through the frustrations of the day, other issues the student was having in school, and how a more positive outlook could help. By the end of the conversation, the student was laughing and joking. He finally opened his book and started working on the day’s assignment. Throughout the day, this teacher showed me how simply being willing to sit down and listen, without judgment or criticism, is sometimes all a student needs from us. 


Image credit: NY Times Magazine

Written by: Alison E. Putnam

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