It was during the inservice days before school began that several 7th grade teachers discovered Todd was in my 8th grade homeroom class. This was the kid from hell, or so it seemed, if you listened to what they said about him. From day one and for several weeks, I must admit that I always had my eye on Todd, just waiting for his bad behavior to explode in my classroom. In spite of this negative attitude toward Todd on my part, I took a few positive steps on how I would approach Todd. The positive outcomes of these steps were more luck from a novice teacher than any display of wisdom on my part.
This was the early 1970s, and divorce was growing at an alarming rate. Todd’s father had left the family, and he had very limited contact with Todd. Consequently, Todd was an angry young man. His family situation explained some of his negative behavior.
As a male middle school teacher, I was the very first male teacher many of my students had experienced. Due to the increasing number of students living in single parent homes (and that single parent was often female), I was often the only positive male role model in the lives of many of my students. This was a heavy burden to place on a young teacher’s shoulders.
Looking back on this experience, I believe the most important step I took was to connect with Todd outside the academic coursework in my class. During the early 1970s, Cedar Bluff Middle School had 900/1000 students in grades 6-8. Many of our buses ran three loads in the afternoons. Instead of sending the second and third load riders to the gym, they were sent to different classrooms identified as bus rooms. Todd was assigned to my classroom as his bus room.
Since I was sponsor of the Chess Club at Cedar Bluff, there were several chessboards on the shelves in my room. Todd informed me that he liked to play chess, so I asked him if he would like to play against me during the wait for his bus. He immediately set up a chessboard to play against me. This connection was all it took. From that point on, Todd would set up the chessboard each afternoon to play against me while he waited for his bus number to be called. Yes, there were numerous times I really did not want to play chess with Todd, but I seldom turned him down. This relationship outside of academics made all the difference.
Do you have Todd in your class this year? Let me offer a few suggestions:
- Ignore teacher gossip about how bad your student’s behavior was last year. Give the student a new beginning.
- Students change and often mature from one year to the next. Give this maturity a chance to work.
- Find out about the economic and social conditions of the student’s home life. It may give you insight concerning the unacceptable behaviors of the student.
- Get to know your student and make a connection outside the academic content of your course. This often takes time, but the result can make a profound difference in the behavior of the student in your classroom.
Bless you my children,
Dr. Terry L. Simpson
Director of Teacher Education