Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tough to Admit

Those of you that know me know that I have a soft spot for some of our most challenged students. Several years ago I was teaching 5th grade and I had a boy that was in my class.  I had been hearing about him for a few years.  For privacy purposes we will call the boy Robbie.  Literally since the boy was in 2nd grade I had heard the murmurs.  I watched other educators shake their heads and I listened to people write the boy off.  Deep down I thought, hmmm, I think he could be a "year ruiner".

The summer before he entered 5th grade I saw Robbie's name on my class list.  I had heard so much negative talk surrounding the boy that my immediate reaction was one of disappointment and defeat. After that initial feeling (which lasted a couple weeks) I decided to change my perspective.  I began to self-talk and read books that talked about teaching the whole child.  

As school was getting ready to begin, I intentionally skipped his CA-60.  I intentionally skipped meeting with his previous teachers.  I knew Robbie's best chance for success was going to be a clean slate.

The first time I met Robbie was at our Back 2 School Night.  He came down with his grandparents and his blonde hair nearly covered his eyes.  The next thing I noticed was Robbie grinning ear to ear. As I mingled with parents and met students I glanced Robbie's way a few times.  Each time he appeared happy.  I didn't see the anger or the defiance that had become synonomous with the young man.  

As the night came to an end, I reflected on the evening.  I began to get angry with myself for thinking the worst.  Shame on me.  Shame on me as an adult.  Shame on me as a professional.  I had listened to the worst and I was the one with a negative mindset directed toward this child.

As the school year kicked-off I met with Robbie frequently.  I discovered his love for riding quads and being outdoors.  I also found out that Robbie didn't like to sit still and learn about subjects and predicates.  I began to see why he caused others grief.  Robbie didn't care to learn what he didn't consider valuable.  He essentially checked out of the learning and disrupted the class.  When he was spoken to he got an attitude and the situation would quickly escalate.  I discovered this within the first few weeks of school.  So, as the professional, I decided to get ahead with Robbie.  I went to one of his football games early in the year.  I called grandma and grandpa once a week and I celebrated Robbie's successes.  What I was finding was that Robbie was a neat boy, but his story was tragic. Robbie didn't have a dad in his life, and mom was struggling to be a mom (her visits in and out of jail were not viewed as strong parenting).  

The more I learned the better I was with young Robbie.  I still look back and kick myself for thinking the worst.  But I feel good about the year Robbie had.  At our final conference in the spring I remember grandma telling me that this was Robbie's best year in school.  I remember the principal commenting to me, "I hardly saw Robbie this year, he must have grown up in 5th grade."  Those remarks wouldn't have happened if I had simply believed everything I had heard.

Most of you are still early in the school year.  I bet you have at least one student that is a "challenge". I'm turning the challenge back on you.  Here is my three tier challenge:

1)  Don't give up on kids!  Whatever you do, find something that is worthy of celebrating.  That child needs you more than you may ever know.

2)  Ask for help.  If you have exhausted your best tactics and nothing seems to work, ask for help. You could have a colleague sit in and watch.  You could meet with a family member.  You could read a book that gives you fresh ideas.  You could meet with other specialists that may offer insight into how to best move forward.

3)  Focus on yourself.  I often see educators showing displeasure through body language and through words.  Our kids see that and our kids hear that.  We must rise above and not tip our hand.  As professionals we need to show a positive disposition.  

For some, you may only be a couple weeks into school.  Have you already thrown your hands-up? Have you tried everything there is to try?  Does the student know when he or she has disappointed you?  The school year is a journey, and what I know is that the best educators are the ones that you cannot tell whether they have a good group or a bad group.  They are the ones that find the greatness and celebrate the small moments that make the difference.

This Week's Big Question:  After the first few weeks of school, can others tell if this is a "good" class or a "bad" class?  If you answered yes, how do you feel about that?


Monday, Sept. 15th:  PM Fire Drill
Monday, Sept. 15th:  NWEA Testing Window Opens
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Admin Meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Nicole Kelly will be at CPI training in the MS
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Final day to submit videos for
Wednesday, Sept. 17th:  Grades K-2 Morning Assembly 8:45am
Wednesday, Sept. 17th:  Constitution Day
Friday, Sept. 19th:  Happy BDay to Marcia Etters

Articles Worth Reading:  

Are You a Reflective Teacher? +TeachThought @TeachThought

Expanding EdCamp Leadership +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

Thoughts on Homework... +Jeff Zoul @Jeff_Zoul

Findings: Positive Relationship Between Family Involvement and Student Success +M.A. Stewart @MAStewartMA

Mike Rowe Gives Life Advice  (This is Fantastic!)

9 Signs it's time to take a Step Forward @marcandangel

How to dig deep when you want to quit @ShutUpRun

Why Sharing Your Good Work is Necessary, Not Boastful! +Kristen Swanson @kristenswanson

A Pre-Mortem for EdTech +Brad Wilson @dreambition

It Starts Here +Shannon Degan @shannondegan

Videos Worth Watching:

Can't wait to get a 3D Printer at Warner! (2 min)

Classic Ellen. The POWER OF PAYING IT FORWARD! (5 min)

Pay it Forward...just because. (3 min)

Where did that ball end up? (2 min)


  1. Fantastic post about real life. "Robbie" will be forever impacted by your exemplary role modeling and respectful manner.
    Awesome blog post Ben.


    1. I appreciate the feedback Michael. We all have students that we "have the potential to make or break". This may sound drastic, but it is true. Robbie is definitely one that the power was in my hands.



  2. This is so true! I have a coworker that is dealing with on-level students for the first time in years and is extremely frustrated. My principal and I mentioned things similar to your words, but I should have said teach to the whole child. About 90% of the kids I teach are at-risk, so I couldn't agree with you more. I'll definitely be checking out your links. Thanks again.


    1. CJ,

      Thanks for reading and sharing. As we begin a new school year we often form first impressions that last far longer than we wish. You did the right thing in encouraging a co-worker to focus on the positives and the whole child. Good for you!

      Thanks for the thoughts and your willingness to comment.


  3. Wonderful Ben! This is something that I constantly try to remind myself of as I go through the day. Sometimes I feel like I am not making any headway or I am constantly putting out fires but I know there is more. I actually have a student this year at my new school that was at the school where I worked last year. Last year he struggled immensely with behavior management and he and I spent hours and hours together. This year he comes to see me several times a day and he always gives me a hug before he leaves. This helps me to focus on the good.

    1. What a lesson for us all! Never give up on never know when you will have a chance to impact their lives. That's really amazing that you are able to connect even in the face of behavioral management. That speaks volumes of your caring and student centered approach.

      Thanks for sharing Jon! I always appreciate the support.