Janine, a 3rd grader, was the boss of all her friends. She said who they could play with and who they could work with in class. When she felt like it, she even said who they could talk to. She wasn’t very good at reading, art, or science, but she was the best at being in charge.
When she had a boyfriend, no one else was allowed to talk to him. Especially other girls. They sometimes cried because they used to play with him, but Janine didn’t care. She had to prove that he belonged to her. He even copied her math answers despite the fact that they were usually wrong.
She knew she was important because the other kids asked to sit next to her. When students got permission to move desks, they moved next to her. They wanted to be in her math group and on her project. But when someone annoyed her, it made her mad, mad, mad.
When she got mad, she got even. She made her friends freeze out whoever she was mad at. Girls cried over this. One time, she got really mad at Heidi who sat next to her. When the teacher asked Janine to move her desk, she passed up a place near her friends. Instead, she traded with the person who would make Heidi the most unhappy.
At her school, everyone shared their breakfast if they weren’t hungry, but not Janine. She ate at home and refused to take her free food. She wasn’t giving anything to anybody.
The teacher saw all of this and talked to Janine. Several times. The teacher was sure Janine wasn’t mean inside and could be kinder. The teacher said it was wrong to make rules about who could talk to whom. The teacher said Janine was causing too much drama and unhappiness. Imagine what she could do if she was positive and kind. Janine closed her lips and closed her mind. She liked being the boss. Even her teacher couldn’t change that.
Janine’s auntie said there wasn’t enough money to pay for sports so she sat with her little brother to watch the other girls practice. When her brother was annoying, she yelled at him, tackled him, and sat on him. Her teacher called Auntie, who was upset, but still didn’t pick her up after school.
Her teacher finally called Auntie in to school to discuss Janine’s academic history. For the first time, Janine cried. She mistakenly thought she had been held back in 1st grade, and despite reading tutoring, she still couldn’t decode words. Since she hadn’t been held back in 1st grade, she was in danger of being held back in 3rd.
Question: What does Janine need? What should be done to help her? Should she repeat 3rd grade?
Jonah, a 5th grader, missed the first two weeks of school. The other children said he was out of town. When he did return, he refused to enter the classroom, standing against the wall outside of the door for nearly an hour. And when he did sit down, he was so unhappy about repeating the fifth grade that he sat with his back to the teacher for several days.
He was frequently tardy, or didn’t come to school at all. During the first quarter, his attendance was less than 75%. When he did attend, he was surly to adults and intimidated other students. He would glare at them until he provoked a response that he could turn into a fight.
He had been held back for a reason. He was at least a year below grade level in both reading and math. His spelling was poor, and he could barely express himself in writing. His first attempt at narrative consisted of six or seven blank pages then three words in his composition book. He finally managed to produce a few sentences.
Jonah’s mother did not call in excuses for many of his absences, so his teacher started calling home every morning he was missing. At one point, his mother started yelling at his teacher that her kids were at home because she had no one to help her. The teacher referred her to several care agencies including Boys and Girls Club that charges only $50 a year. His mother started turning off her phone.
Jonah frequently stopped class by getting into arguments. The teacher would send him outside both to separate the combatants and to give him a chance to cool off. When she stepped out to talk to him, he would tense, hunch his big body into his jacket, and wait for the yelling to begin. It worked best when she didn’t. She’d ask him for his side, give him some advice on handling it better, and tell him he could pretend she had been yelling when he went back in. He would relax for a while until he got frustrated again.
Questions: What could be done to improve Jonah’s attendance? What about his behavior toward other students? What are his academic needs? How can his academic needs be met?
Richard, a 3rd grader, has been suspended three times this year. He has ADHD and is on medication, but it’s not particularly effective. He shouts out with laughter in the middle of class, and once he gets going, won’t stop even if there are consequences. It can end lessons when other students join in or egg him on.
His parents have been together for many years, but have fallen on hard times. Mom works days and Dad works swing shift, and they started the year at the homeless shelter. They are in a house now and managed to stay at the same school, but still have stuff in storage (including an overdue library book) and Richard says they’re moving again soon.
His parent’s split shifts make it hard to for the two of them to communicate about homework, behavior, and medication, but they care very much. Dad has dropped by in the middle of the school day a few times to make sure Richard is behaving, and Mom always responds to phone calls.
Two of Richard’s suspensions occurred during parent conference weeks. His parents missed their first appointments, and by the time they came in, he had started playground fights, punching other children enough to draw in-school suspension. Otherwise, he has good weeks and bad weeks, sometimes going several days without even getting a warning.
He is ahead of grade level in spelling, and at or near grade level in all other subjects. He doesn’t get much work done, though. He talks nearly continuously during independent work, is highly distractible during whole class work, and works best when a nearby adult keeps reminding him to get back to work. When given a choice of assignments, he chooses the most fun one, and does the fun part over and over again. Homework is hit or miss.
Questions: What classroom practices can help Richard learn better? How can the class learn with Richard in it? What suggestions can his teacher make to better involve his parents? What should be done about his missing work?
Lester, a 6th grader, has an IEP. In his case, he is mainstreamed into Language Arts and Social Studies, and goes to a support class later in the day to help him keep up in his regular ed classes. His spelling is poor and his reading is not much stronger, but verbally he is sharp. He is the class clown, even getting his teacher to crack up on occasion. On one field trip, he pointed to a model of an astronaut and said, “No wonder NASA had to quit going to the moon. Their space suits were made out of papier machê!” He then proceeded to the snack bar and bought a mountain of popcorn to share with his chaperone group.
He finds the loophole in every direction the teacher gives, then shouts it out to the rest of the class. The cuteness has worn off. He races through his work, never gives his best effort, even on non-written assignments, and turns verbal reports and plays into one-man shows. When students requested partners for the big assignment of the year, his best friend secretly wrote a note to the teacher, “Please, please, don’t put me with Lester. I have to pass this class!”
Lester clearly has talent. Someday, he will win Last Comic Standing. However, with his current academic habits, he won’t be able to read his contract nor get correct change from a taxi driver. He will know he is getting ripped off by his agent, but never be able to prove it. He will spend his life much as he is today, being both charming and exhausting.
Questions: What plans can you put in place to help Lester focus on his academics? What authentic learning opportunities can you provide for Lester? How can you manage your own response to Lester’s antics to keep from being worn out by him?
Gideon is an 8th-grader who speaks English well enough to hold a conversation, but not well enough to keep up academically, so he takes an extra English class to help him catch up. He is easily angered, and with over a dozen other languages in the English learning lab classroom, the misunderstandings that can trigger a fight abound. He can be positive, energetic, helpful, and even fun in class, but when he’s having a bad day, he arrives at the classroom early, standing with his back to the door shooting daggers with his eyes at all of the children who arrive after he does.
There are only two other Hebrew speakers in class who could translate. When he doesn’t want to talk, they won’t make any suggestions as to what might be going on. His problems seem to be with individual boys, not particular ethnicities, but he has been known to spend class with his arms crossed glaring unceasingly at a single boy. As soon as that boy looks back, he jumps out of his seat, pointing and shouting fighting words, not all of which are in English. He has not physically attacked anyone, but he certainly gets in their face. Learning, of course, stops, and referrals to the office begin.
One thing that helps is getting to the classroom early. Since it’s a shared room, a teacher waiting to get in and chatting with students is extra work, but it means class gets to start on time and peacefully. Getting Gideon to relax and laugh is not always easy, sometimes he seems determined to stay angry, but if he does drop his shoulders and join the group, he is fun to talk to, and shares his smile with everyone.
Questions: What can you do to find out what is causing Gideon’s outbursts? How can you prevent or redirect them? What can you do to minimize them once they occur?
Donna, a 4th grader, started the school year bright, happy, and willing. Despite recently being told she didn’t qualify for special education services, she still loved school. Then, one month into the school year, it suddenly changed. She morphed into a sullen, demanding, whining child who refused to write anything down unless personally directed by an adult. She wouldn’t even catch up by copying an answer from her partner if an adult told her to. She often wouldn’t write down what was on the board. Instead she wanted it written on a Post-it for her to copy herself.
Impromptu and formal parent conferences revealed little. It might have been that she received her first ever letter grades and they were low. It might have been that her aunt had moved in with her family. It might have been that she had stopped sleeping in her room and was falling asleep late at night on the couch in front of the television. It might have been that her mother was considering remarrying. It was difficult to say. When anyone, including the counselor, asked Donna, she shrugged.
As time went on, she shrugged a lot. She refused to read, saying she couldn’t. (She did have difficulty reading, but could read 2nd grade level books.) She refused to write for the same reason. At one point, she said she couldn’t count. She even refused to sculpt out of modeling foam, getting a tutor to do her assignment. She regularly refused to leave the classroom with the class, delaying everyone’s lunch, and often refused to play at recess.
Perhaps the hardest to watch was when the students grouped up. She wouldn’t get out of her seat to join a group. She had a litany of excuses. She couldn’t choose a group. Someone in the group hated her. She didn’t know what to do. Often she didn’t express herself in words; instead she waved her hands in the direction of the problem and moaned. Her teacher could either spend a lot of time figuring out what that meant or let her sit at her desk and cry. Making her join a group didn’t have a big payoff. She stood in a corner and refused to talk. Then she blamed the group for leaving her out. She said they all hated her. When given a job, she refused to do it, or argued with every decision, bringing the group’s progress to a complete halt.
Questions: What might be going on with Donna? What can be done to help her learn despite her stonewalling? What choices does the teacher have about working in groups? What other resources could the teacher refer the family to?
Max, a 2nd grader, did not qualify for special education services. He was one of the biggest, and loudest, boys in the classroom, who shouted for attention every few minutes and yelled at the children around him no matter who was talking or how quiet the classroom was. The yelling was worst when he got in line. Whenever any child touched him, he shouted down at them from his superior height, but he didn’t seem to notice his own shoving and pushing. Nor did he notice whose head he clobbered with his wildly swinging elbows nor whose legs he bruised with his kicking feet.
In class, he was a constant over-sharer who grew belligerent if the teacher made him wait his turn to talk, and even resorted to running up and standing in front of her in the middle of lessons. He monopolized her individual student conference time with either his learning needs or the conflict he created with other students. The children in the room who wanted entertainment quickly learned that they could derail any lesson by annoying Max. Also, he had tipped chairs so steeply and frequently, that the chair legs had folded under him, and his desk was an explosive mess that covered the floor by the end of every day.
The teacher tried several strategies to help Max contain his emotions and improve his social skills. One that worked well for a time was to give him a stack of twelve cards each day. Every time he wanted to share in class, he had to give her a card. When he ran out, no more raising his hand. He enjoyed this for a while and even rationed his cards, but eventually he got frustrated and chucked them.
One of his most difficult behaviors was his defiance. When he grew so loud and angry that all learning stopped and other children were afraid, the teacher would send him to the office or another room. He would refuse to go, requiring the principal to come get him. Sometimes, he would still refuse to go, keeping the classroom in limbo until he decided to walk out of the door.
Also troublesome were Max’s demands to go to the bathroom every time the desk work part of a lesson started. He had to go several times a day, and the length of his visits increased. It became so predictable that his teacher decided to try delaying him by asking him to finish the top part of a page first. He stood up, looked straight at her, and urinated on himself, shouting, “See! I told you that I needed to go to the bathroom!” She sent him to the nurse for clean clothes. Upon his return, he bragged about getting free clothes and spent the day demanding apologies from his teacher.
Questions: How can you keep your classroom running with loud outbursts every few minutes? What are some ideas for minimizing the outbursts? What can you do to handle an angry, large child until help can arrive? How do you stay in control of a classroom with a child willing to go to such lengths?
Fadil, a 7th grader, is being groomed by his father to be a football/baseball star. And he might be. He is of average size, but he is a skilled athlete, a standout on the school teams, and a valued player on the regional teams. He is also an above-average student who would have outstanding grades if he was more thorough about his work. He is neither particularly studious nor particularly distracted in class. He seems to enjoy studying and socializing about equally. He is well-liked by both students and adults.
Once baseball season started, his grades started slipping. His classwork remained consistent, but his homework turn-in became spotty. Some was incomplete and some was simply missing. Between practices, games and travel, he didn’t have many hours free. Suggesting that he get his reading done while he was traveling or in the dugout wasn’t working, and notices to home about missing work were not being returned.
Finally, his father stopped by for an impromptu conference to see how his son was doing. This man had emigrated from Egypt, “to the best country, the best state, and the best school district,” so his children could have a better life. He worked as an electrician here, but had apparently been involved in some military action in Egypt and had been imprisoned for it. He had a long talk with the teacher about how hard it is to raise children who are surrounded by so much and don’t appreciate any of it.
A few days later, Fadil stopped by the classroom a couple hours after school was out. He and his 6th grade sister were waiting for a ride after practice and couldn’t reach anyone at home. They were nervous because their father was going to be angry. His teacher took the opportunity to ask him where his last assignment was. He admitted he hadn’t done it. His teacher also reminded him that his father hadn’t signed his mid-quarter grades yet. He asked the teacher not to send another copy because his father would get really angry.
What did “really angry” mean? Fadil and his sister began trading sentences at this point, agreeing with each other and helping explain. Their father spanked them when they got bad grades, spanked them hard. No, he didn’t leave bruises, but it was hard to sit down the next day. He sometimes threatened to use a belt, but hadn’t yet. They were both fearful that he would do more than spank them.
Questions: Should Fadil’s father be notified about his missing work or his missing grade report? Suppose Fadil’s father finds the existing grade report? If there is a credible threat to a child’s well-being should a teacher send bad news home or not? Are the children telling the whole truth? What can be done to find out?