Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 12 2011

Feeling like a failure.

My biggest behavior problem kid, this kid, the only kid who gets to the bottom of the behavior chart every single day, got kicked out of my class and moved into the class next door. At 8:43 this morning, he was in my class. At 8:44, he was no longer my student, for the rest of the year.

It was over nothing; it was over everything. It was the same damn stuff he does every day. He refused to do work. I repeatedly gave him instructions to do his work, and consequences when he refused. I gave him choices: take out his notebook or go take a minute in the hallway to get himself together. He chose to yell at me to go away and leave him alone. I gave him more choices: take out his notebook or go see our Head Teacher, disciplinarian extraordinaire (the kids are terrified of her). He yelled some more and covered his ears. I gave him a last choice: see our Head Teacher, or get written up to to principal. He looked me in the face and said, “Write up.”

Maybe he thought I wouldn’t do it, maybe he was just in so deep he couldn’t back down. Either way, I started writing him up and he burst into tears, accusing me of trying to get him in trouble, he never wanted to be in my class, he never wanted to go to school, he hates everything about it. I have, in the past, threatened write-ups and relented when he showed remorse and explained himself, and he’s right back in the same spot the next day, learning nothing from the experience. So I felt like today I had to write him up. Through his tears, he explained that he couldn’t do his work because he didn’t have a pencil. I wanted to scream. He has a hand signal to ask for a pencil; he could have raised his hand; he could probably have even yelled out that he needed a pencil and it would have gone better than this. AND HE KNOWS IT. But instead, he made bad choice after bad choice until he was in so deep he faced serious trouble. I asked him what he could have done, and he knows exactly. And I told him, like always, that if he asks me for help, I will ALWAYS help him, no matter what, but he needed to face the consequences of his actions.

Except I lied. Because when the principal came back with him, she told me without preamble that she was moving him into the class next door with my mentor teacher. So I won’t be able to always help him. He is no longer my student. The way the principal said it, they have to have him in a classroom with an experienced teacher to document that he has been unsuccessful in multiple environments before they can move forward with a discipline hearing. My mentor teacher will be documenting all negative behavior for that purpose. Basically, she said that we’re now in the paperwork stage of kicking him out. She wants him gone and we need the documents to make it happen.

I hate this. This kid came into my classroom and, despite everything I tried, left it without really learning anything. Sure, his math is a little better, but he didn’t learn anything about success, or anything about how to act. I was endlessly patient. I have never yelled at him or any of my students. I tried private consequences, public ones, relaxed ones, strict ones.  I tried reverse psychology-ing him into behaving. I tried individual instructions, interventions, different work, one-on-one help (I do think that a lot of his problems stem from a processing issue: he has issues because he has decided over the years that he would rather be the bad kid than the dumb kid). But nothing, in the end, actually helped this kid.

I know, logically, that maybe the move will be good for him, that he might be successful in a new environment, that maybe it was just a weird personality thing. I know, logically, that my other 16 kids will learn better because he is not there. I know this in my head. But in my heart, I can’t stop feeling like I’ve been just one more in a long, long line of people who gave up on him.

4 Responses

  1. hill

    please, please, please don’t feel like a failure. I had a student suspended indefinitely today too. But I know that we both did everything we could to help them. Just continue to be there for him in as many little ways as you can.

  2. CJK

    And it is possible that the work you invested will make way more difference than you will get to see. Even if he doesn’t make it in the next class, some of what you offered may stick. He may even show up to connect with you in new ways now that he is NOT in your class. Be open to seeing what comes. You were consistent and clear and did your best. No one bats 1.000. You put your all into it and now how to let go of that particular work and see where he takes it.

  3. Michael

    You didn’t fail this child. The school may end up failing to help this child, but you didn’t.

  4. I remember writing a post with exactly that same title, “feeling like a failure”
    You can’t help every child. It is more important that the other 16 kids learn and it sounded like this student was taking way too much attention away from them.
    I ahd to have students moved out of my room my first year, I just wish my principal had done it more quickly. It made things better for everyone.

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