Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 28 2011

I’ve got to get this kid out of my head.

So I’m writing him down. Sorry, this post is mostly for me to exorcise this child, so it’s long and not that polished. As somebody famous once said, I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead. Reader be warned.

This is my biggest behavior challenge, the kid who everyone from my grade level chair to the janitors warned me would be a problem. Let’s call him Taz, for a couple reasons. One, he’s a whirlwind of energy, often negative and angry, but sometimes enthusiastic and excited–he does nothing by halves, but spins wildly into any activity. Two, he’s liable to explode at any moment, from any trigger, negatively or positively. Three, he’s not the fastest processor, and has a hard time understanding spoken language (directions, read aloud, word problems, etc.) so the garbled language skills fit too.

Anyway, so Taz. This kid is by turns a joy and a nightmare. When he’s on, he’s the most joyful, excited little boy you’ve ever seen. He cheers for extra homework and has brought his math textbook home two days in a row to do extra subtraction problems out of it. He’s good at subtraction and thrives on right answers and feeling smart. But when he’s off, he’s a devil (perhaps a Tazmanian one). He stamps his feet. He throws books. He growls. He yells: at me, at others, at nothing in particular. Ever gotten screamed at by a 9 year old with absolutely no way to get him to stop? I have. He gets these verbal tics and just repeats phrases over and over. Sometimes they’re fun noises, sometimes fun phrases (Reese’s Pieces had a fun half hour’s constant chanting from the time-out chair in the back of the room) and sometimes they’re just random pieces of sentences, from math problems or conversation, that he chants forever. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t follow instructions. In fact, he does the exact opposite of whatever you ask, sometimes piggybacking on other kids’ misbehaviors so when I correct them he adopts their unwelcome behavior, which was never appealing until it was bad.

I finally got his mom’s phone number about three weeks ago, after six wrong numbers and one failed home visit (they had moved). We talk pretty much every day, because Taz get’s to Phone Call Home for behavior pretty much every day. And for a while Mom was my biggest asset. I send daily notes home with Taz giving him behavior grades for the morning and the afternoon in just two categories: “Taz followed directions without talking back or getting upset” and “Taz focused on his work without repeated reminders”. That’s it. And for a while it looked really good–he was paying attention, he loved his positive notes, and he cried when he got negative notes (which seems bad, but it shows he cares about them so it’s actually a good thing).

Here’s the problem with it as I see it: he wants to do well to please Mom and get praise at home. When he’s mad at Mom or upset with something that happens at home, he’s AWFUL in school, because he on some level wants to bring home a bad note and “punish” her.

Today he landed himself in time-out in another classroom within 15 minutes of school starting. He came in, started yelling “I don’t care” over every question I asked, loudly talked about how he didn’t have to do anything in school if he didn’t want to, and, to top it off, when I tried to go over to talk to him individually, he slid as far away as possible and covered his ears. There is NO WAY he was reacting to my classroom within 30 seconds of walking in the door. It has to be coming from home.

So today was a whole mess of being told he didn’t care, he didn’t want to be in my class, he hates coming to school, and he wishes he were in the class next door. Also being yelled at, stomped at, talked over, and made to listen to blabbing noises all day. For one blessed hour he was perfect. Don’t ask me why, but his angelic enthusiastic twin joined us for Math today and he was golden. Cut to afternoon recess, which he lost 5 minutes of due to behavior and was so upset and out of control about it that he nearly (I had the referral form out) got sent to the office and suspended for three days.

But what both breaks my heart and makes me want to slap him silly is that as soon as the form came out, he started bawling. Huge, sobbing tears because his mom would be mad and she said he was going to have to live with his grandma if he keeps getting in trouble (this is not uncommon out here). It’s like he makes absolutely no connection between his behavior and the consequences. I draw the connections, over and over, explaining WHY he got this consequence. He can spit back the “right” answer of what he should do, but fifteen minutes later, he’s in trouble again.

He’s been bad all year, naughty and rude and disrespectful and sometimes downright mean. But today was the first day I just wanted him gone.

4 Responses

  1. K

    “He’s been bad all year, naughty and rude and disrespectful and sometimes downright mean. But today was the first day I just wanted him gone.”

    I felt that today. I feel so guilty when it creeps into my head. I have a “Taz”, too and it really wears me down.

  2. Anna

    Does he have an IEP? This sounds like an emotional/behavioral issue such as FASD or RAD. There are positive behavioral supports that can help, but he will need 1) professional evaluation immediately, 2) trained support, possibly one-on-one in classroom to help him with social skills and 3) positive behavioral intervention. Punishment? Time out chair? Calling home? Um, how’s that working out for ya?

    • eminnm

      This would be lovely. But getting a kid tested for a possible IEP takes more than two months in our district. We’re in the documentation stage now (I write down all the negative things he says and does and after a month and a half I can get him onto a Support Team, which does nothing until a month later, when we can maybe test him). The other problem is that the support and funding for aides and whatnot doesn’t tend to happen unless the kid is obviously, severely impaired cognitively, for which my kiddo doesn’t qualify. You’re totally right, it would be great to say he’s got RAD or FASD, and it might even be true, but unfortunately it doesn’t change our day-to-day much. Sigh.

  3. Michael

    Sigh is right. I have a couple of these that I am assigned to “shadow” for a school day.
    The amazing thing is it’s considered “para” work since I don’t have a full class to teach and pays less. Hell, it should get combat pay! I know that the current thinking is that it’s best for them to be in the regular school population, but what about the other kid’s education? No teacher can be as effective with the rest of the class if he or she is spending a large part of the time maintaining a single child. This is truly unfair to the other kids.

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