Thursday, November 5, 2009

Learning Every Day

There are some lessons in life that you learn, forget, learn again, forget again, and relearn until you don't need to know them anymore. One of those lessons for me is remembering to pick my battles and not always take everything quite so seriously.

I relearned that today with one of my students. He is a great kid who is learning a lot, but in the meantime, he is driving me buggers. There are a lot of reasons he acts as he does, not the least of which is that he is a middle schooler (ie t-e-e-n-a-g-e-r). He does things like ask me for candy, repeatedly, whine when I ask him to write notes, refuse to come to the board (with an attitude) to answer a question, complain when I don't call on him more than all the other kids, and go into my closet to rifle through the candy while I'm watching when I don't give him some. Many days I get so frustrated with him and I end my day full of frustration. Today, I didn't. I watched him get in my candy, I quietly waited without reacting when he whined and refused and, to my surprise, without my cajoling or freaking out, he was fine. He didn't take my candy, he still wanted to come to the board and so he did, and he got his work done. I didn't give him anything to react to. For me, I trusted that he is a good kid who needs some guidance right now, not a teacher who freaks out every time he jokes around with the rules. Were his actions inappropriate? Sure. But as he learns to trust me (and as he learns that I don't make a big deal out of it), he will act out less because he won't get the attention he craves from that. Even better, I ended the day without wanting to pull my hair out.

I experienced something similar with Katie tonight. She has been a nightmare to put to bed lately with lots of screaming and crying to do anything. She is a queen staller and when you try to move her along she ignores you and fights like a banshee (and sounds like one too...). If you get tired of waiting for her to do something and do it for her, watch out Mount Vesuvius, Mount Katie is ready to blow! Somehow, tonight I didn't get all worked up about anything from the pickup all the way through the kiss good night. When she wanted to sleep on the floor (not a good choice as she never actually sleeps when she tries to sleep on the floor) I managed to laugh it off and convince her to get back on the bed. In the past I have either let her try to sleep on the floor (I want her to have choices, after all) and then stressed out because I had to go upstairs to intervene several times before fighting to get her in to the bed so she would actually sleep, OR I would just fight her to get her into bed by telling her "no". Not only was I able to brush it off and not get worked up about it, I even made a conscious decision to let her try to sleep on the floor tomorrow if she wants to. It's a weekend night with nothing specific happening Saturday morning so, if she doesn't sleep right away, it's not going to ruin the workday the next day.

Although my student (and his parents) probably wouldn't appreciate my comparing him to my 3.5 year old child, they both test me on a minute by minute basis. With both of them I have two choices, get worked up and stressed out over every infraction, no matter how minor because "The rules are important!" Alternately, if I choose my battles, especially if I choose the right rules, I won't lose my authority, I won't be so stressed out and I'll even have a lot more fun, teaching and parenting.

Now, if I could just remember that tomorrow...

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