Somewhere around Christmas vacations, I started noticing two actual problem kids in the school. One, a CP (kindergarten) boy, got so bad that his teacher and I decided it wasn’t worth him coming to English anymore. The other, a CE2 (3rd grade) boy I’ll call M, was starting to get out of hand, more than the usual out-of-control behavior I was getting from the rest of the CE2 class. Normal behavior for that class was talking all the time, throwing markers, hurtling insults back and forth, etc. M refused to do any work, insulted me, ran around the room hitting the other kids…let’s just say he had a very short fuse. Eventually, I would give up and ask him “Do you really want to be here?” Sometimes, he answered a dejected, beaten “Yes,” and calmed down for a while. But then he started answering “No.” So I sent him back to class, twice.
Vacations came. I decided that if he kept up that attitude and behavior, or got worse, after school started again, I would talk to his teacher about taking him out of English. But he made me curious at the same time. As much as he openly did not like school, he did have utmost respect for one of the adults he worked with — JF, one of the psychologist-esque people who work with kids who are behind in some academic, developmental, or social area. Maybe before talking to M’s teacher, I could ask JF how he had earned M’s respect.
But then, after vacations, the entire CE2 class started shaping up. That was when I started getting them to work quietly, when they started asking questions and paying attention. M came right along with them. He fell behind because of a few missed classes and actually did work outside of class to catch up, asking a friend of his to lend him the vocabulary worksheet we had done. I had to discipline him a couple times, but it was for talking over me or another student, instead of physically hitting other kids. And he started learning, remembering the word “scarf” when no one else in his group did.
This past Tuesday, after I dropped the older kids off at their classroom after English, I passed by M in the hallway. He was sitting out there, a punishment for talking in class. His face brightened when he saw me. He admitted his crime, that he had been talking a lot, but then he continued:
“I don’t do that in English. I like English class.”
I almost jumped up and down squealing. Maybe I haven’t changed the world, maybe I haven’t changed their lives, but I learned how to run a good class. And I helped M start to like English. And he’s not the only one.