This year I have ranted and raved about how spectacular my kids are. They’ve been angels for me and as a result, my attitude towards teaching and students has completely shifted. I left last year thinking that there were some aspects simply outside of a teacher’s control, that some students just are simply not predisposed to learn. And while I know that in certain situations, kids have been through significant traumas that can make school especially challenging, just about every student truly wants to learn and will excel (or at the very least, do their best) if the teacher can create a positive environment in the classroom.
Which is why events this week have really bothered me.
First came Monday. We spent time in each of my classes going to the library to check out new books and then stopping by the school’s Scholastic Book Fair where new books were on sale. With parent-teacher conferences coming soon, it was a good chance to let kids choose a book that they could hopefully get their parents to buy later on.
As one of my classes was making the walk back to our portable, a student came up to me.
“Mister, Jesus and Maira stole things from the book fair.”
And thus, I had my first problem.
How does one go about this? The girl who told me is a queit, shy girl who doesn’t like to stir up trouble. I had no doubt that she was telling me what she believed to be true. But I had no proof, no way to breach this with those students. And what if they’d put the stuff back or if they hadn’t actually taken anything? Then what?
I called both students outside individually. Both students denied everything and first and within a minute both students had returned stolen items. I sent them both back in the classroom. A few minutes later, the bell rang. The students walked out.
A couple of days later, I was grading assessments when I came across a disturbing trend. Two girls, neither of whom passed their most recente benchmark, had nearly perfect scores. Those nearly perfect scores included the same two incorrect answers as well as myriad other erased answers. In fact, nearly every single question featured an incorrect answer choice that had been circled and then changed.
For both girls, I wrote “Please do not try to cheat in my class again. I’m disappointed in you.”
And what else should I have done? I know both of these situations represent excellent teaching moments, but I honestly don’t know how to reach these kids. It’s frustrating. Last year I would have held all these kids after class or during lunch and would’ve given them a lecture. I would’ve seen the kids zone out right in front of me and I would’ve felt helpless as I watched my words bounce right off of them, not knowing what to do differently. I know I can’t do that again, but how can I let these kids know that what they did was wrong, that it hurt them, me, and our relationship?
And why is this my responsibility? Why am I the one who has to teach responsibility, integrity, and trustworthiness? Of course, in saying that, I have to remember that this here isn’t a ‘disadvantaged school problem’ so much as its a ‘young teenager’ problem. Still, I thought so highly of all my kids before these incidences and while I still have faith in their power to do so many amazing things, it is upsetting: not only that these things still happen, but that I feel so helpless to turn them into positives.