I worked with a troubled student for two years. This dear girl came from a troubled home. Her parents were going through a divorce. Not only that, she also was suddenly caught in the midst of Mennonite culture. Her world was turned upside down. Our call as teachers is to show tender love. When a situation calls for discipline, we need to show love.
I had the privilege of learning what triggers her temper tantrums. That was a hard thing to learn, and I still don’t feel like I understand everything. Whenever she spent time with just her dad, it would throw her back into a whirlwind. Her dad did not have good influence on her and would let her spend hours watching TV. Her mom, on the other hand, was trying to influence her in the right way but has a hard time with not knowing how to discipline herself.
When possible, preempt the problem by listening.
One thing that I discovered would help to prevent a tantrum was catching it before it happened. For instance, on some mornings when she walked into school, I could tell that she was about to crack. I would pull her aside and talk to her. Not a discipline talk but an “I care” talk. I would ask her what was going on with her: What was going on at home? Had something happened to upset her? Did something hurt her? etc. Sometimes it took her awhile to talk but she would often open up and talk. I would listen to her, encourage her, pray with her, giver her a hug, and send her back to the classroom with a huge smile on her face.
Respond to the problem calmly and firmly.
That did not always work, though, and sometimes I didn’t get the talk done amidst the demands of the other students. When that happened it was not unusual for her to throw one of her tantrums. When this kind of thing happens, do not let the student control you. I would make her go into the teachers’ lounge or go sit on the swing until I came. If she refused to obey or tried to run away, I would calmly take her hand. She would often try to pull away and cry about how it hurt. I would stand there and calmly tell her if she stands there nicely or walks nicely with me it won’t hurt. Otherwise it would hurt her because she was resisting me. There were other times if she did not listen to me I would go get the principal and she would listen either when she saw me walking toward him, talking to him, or sometimes he actually had to talk to her.
Let time bring opportunities.
I would often let her sit by herself for a few minutes to help her cool off. By the time I would go to talk to her she was often ready to talk and realized what she had done. If she wasn’t ready to
talk I would sit there till she was ready to talk. If other students needed me, I would let her sit by herself again till she was ready to talk. After we talked, we would always pray before she went back to her classroom or outside for recess. We would talk about her actions and what she could have done instead of what she did.
I did not let her go unpunished for not obeying me right away. I would make her study in another classroom over recess. Sometimes she would write sentences or Bible verses. At other times, I would let her do her school work.
The best advice I can give for working with a troubled student is to spend quality time with the student, listen, and show love and steadiness.
CONTRIBUTOR: Judith Yoder