I've had a lot of downtime this summer. A lot. So how have I been filling the endless hours that stretch before me? I admit to having done some curriculum writing, but the main hours of the day have been occupied with reading. Facebook, Twitter, books, e-books--anything and everything I can get my hands on. One article I recently read on Edweek dealt with loving our students unconditionally. To be honest, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on this. Because of my upbringing, I understand where my at-risk students are coming from and can relate to their experiences. This makes it easier for me to have empathy for them.
However, it seems I have at least one student who challenges me on that every few years. I had my hands full with Brian* (name changed). Brian, who came to us to pass a few classes, was returning to his home school to graduate. His dismissive attitude toward the school and me didn't endear him to me. The more irritated I became with this guy, the more he did to irritate me.
This continued on for some time until one day as I mused over the situation, a question popped into my mind. Why is he like this? What happened to him to morph him into an irritable, oppositional guy? The answers became my quest. A couple of weeks later he wrote the answer to my question. The assignment was to write to a former teacher who made a difference or positive impact on him. Brian did the assignment, but he did it his way. He wrote about a teacher with whom he didn't get along. Suddenly I realized I had the answer in my hand. I now knew what had happened to him.
Knowing the underlying problem, a problem that occurred in seventh grade, helped me to develop empathy for him. It helped me see Brian in a different light. It helped me realize he was damaged. I had a choice. I could continue to disdain this guy and see him as a problem or I understand that something had happened to him, a negative encounter with a teacher had marred the rest of his educational experience. I determined, after reading that letter, that I would break through to this guy to the point where he knew I cared.
Sometimes kids are like this. Instead of disparaging them, we should try to understand them. What's the reason they are acting as they are? Instead of asking them what's wrong with them, we should be asking them what happened to them.
Unconditional love isn't easy. Some students do everything in their power to make themselves unlikeable. We may not like them, but we can still love them. Treat them fairly, be respectful, be transparent, be encouraging, and be patient. Instead of retorting to what they say, disarm them with love. Let them know, through your actions, that nothing they say is going to move you.
How did my time with Brian end up? I got him to talk...and laugh. I considered that a major victory. By the end of the class, I could joke around with him. By the time he left my class, we had a truce. By the time he left my class, I had a better understanding of unconditional love.
Because of Brian, I'm a better teacher. I learned something and changed an attitude that I needed to change Brian and I, we both changed. And that change? That has made all the difference.