Friday, May 21, 2010


D. is a 6th grade LD student whose mood fluctuates hourly. He can begin the day pleasantly and cheerfully but turn moody and work resistant for no apparent reason. His inability to shut his mouth when in the negative mood does not bode well for those of us attempting to work with him nor does it help him in any manner. He also has a mother who does not care about his work ethic.

By 7th hour on Monday he refused to do any work. I knew that in homeroom we were going to the computer lab to let students play computer games. Trying to "motivate" D., I stated that he would be allowed computer time only if he completed his assignment. No change in behavior.

As any parent knows, when carrying out a disciplinary threat, the adult suffers the consequences of the threat as much as the child. Banish a computer, cell phone, or TV and the parent endures a pouty, bored, snotty child. Teaching is no different. During computer lab time, D. continued to refuse to work, and I continued to strongly encourage him to change his mind. It would have been easier on both of us to just let him go on a computer. Since that didn't happen, neither of us left that lab happy with the other.

After the bell rang, and as drove home, I felt irritated at both D. and myself. Was it really worth the effort to try to get him to work when he clearly wasn't going to do it? Was I more involved in a power struggle rather than academic encouragement? Was it really my job as paraprofessional, rather than as the teacher, to consistently cajole (nag, threaten, bibe, harass) him into working? Or should I have washed my hands of him and let him sit unproductively? I concluded that the next day I would wash my hands of him and let him be.

Tuesday, 1st hour, D. cheerfully greets me and announces he is going to be better and willing to work. This will make it an easier day for both of us, so I am happy with this declaration. What I would love to know is whether D. woke up that morning and randomly decided to be positive or if my hassling him the previous day made an impact.

This is one of the basic educational unknowns....what actions taken by the teacher/parapro positively impact students. If I had ignored his unmotivated behavior would he have come to school Tuesday in that good mood or would he have continued bucking school work? I wish I knew......

(One old adage President Bush and Senator Kennedy forgot when promoting the "No Child Left Behind" bill is "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." We can provide educational experiences for children, but they must want an education and their parents must want it for them. Circumstances are vastly different for school children today than when we baby boomers were in school. Anyone not familiar with school children today may not understand the difficulty in educating students for no other reason than parental support is not behind the schools.)

1 comment:

Cheryle said...

Holly, I think the answer to your questions lies within yourself: I can't imagine that you wouldn't try to motivate each student to be the best s/he can be, even (especially!) those who show no inclination to comply.

You'll probably never know why D changed his outlook, but, whatever the reason, your insistence that he accept the punishment for his noncompliance had to at the very least make him think about it.

School *is* very different today than when we were kids, but I still think teachers (and paraprofessionals) have huge impact on children's lives. And, for some, it may be the only really positive influence they get.

I'll say it again: I admire you so much for the work you do!