I. Behavior Management Doesn't Come from a Textbook
When I first started teaching in 1993, I had already taken several courses in Behavioral Psychology and felt well-versed on how to apply them. I was so good at this, in fact, that other older teachers were envious of my ability to take the psychological theories and just make them work when they had tried endlessly to do so without success. They couldn't understand how a young upstart teacher in her twenties had already mastered the game. Well, in this series, I am going to tell my secret. And you may be surprised to find that it doesn't come from a textbook.
The Secret: Showing Students you Care
Not to say that textbooks and theories do not have a lot to offer; they do. As a matter of fact, I want to emphasize that it is partly due to my vast learning in the field of psychology and behaviorism that allowed me to successfully handle behavioral challenges. What I am stressing here is that it is not the key ingredient to success.
In the 1960's, in a series now international famous by a well-known and now deceased entrepreneur named Earl Nightingale, he said, "There is no more important quality in the whole world than to be appreciated. When people feel appreciated and liked, they will give their business, their love, and their life to that cause."
What Nightingale was saying is still true today and it is perhaps the most important element in getting through to kids today. That ingredient is called: genuine caring.
It really is that simple. I know that all of the psychology I took in school on the graduate level certainly helped me to understand the child with personality disorders, with behavioral problems, and the like. But it was my understanding, my empathetic spirit, and my love for that student which won him over.
I can think of countless examples where this was true. There is a former student I remember who is serving time in prison now but I was her favorite teacher when she was in my class. She respected no other teachers but me. She told the principal and others she would answer to no one but me. She would have fought for me if necessary. We became good friends. I only wish I could have helped her more.
There are other examples like this from my 15+ years of teaching experience; kids who didn't seem to have a chance except in my classroom where I provided perhaps the only positive regard they ever got. The administrators had given up on them. In many cases, their parents had given up on them. They had often even given up on themselves, but I created a room that they felt safe in: safe to be themselves, safe to share, safe to unveil their darkest secrets. This was because I accepted them as they were and I only had one prerequisite for admission: that they wanted to improve.
If teachers will adopt more of an empathetic view of the criminal, as well as the victim, we will all be better off. But it is hard for many to do this. Understandably, we do not want to neglect those really good kids who have their own struggles. But it is the deviant child we must help if we are to save society from a downward spiral. It all starts in the classroom, with one teacher who cares, and one kid who needs someone to understand.
Let it begin with us.