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The Students Who Challenge Us … to Be Better Teachers
posted by: Melissa | October 26, 2012, 03:25 PM   

ASCD recently released their October issue of Educational Leadership, with the title Students Who Challenge Us. Intrigued, I headed over to their site, excited to learn about better ways to deal with challenging students.

I was not disappointed. The issue is filled with articles full of helpful information. There are several articles dealing with discipline, including how other countries handle school discipline, how to form relationships with students, engaging students, and how to evaluate a student's behavior in order to find a discipline method that works. There are also articles that deal with how to handle students struggling with difficulties like autism. I was especially happy to see an article about Tourette's, having taught, and struggled, with a student with that syndrome.

The part of the issue that stuck with me the most, though, was their regular column, "Tell Me About," this time dedicated to teachers sharing about what they learned from the students that challenged them. If you want to be inspired as to how to reach that one student you're really struggling with this year, the article is a must read.

For example, Jennifer Orr from Annandale Terrace Elementary writes:
A girl in my 1st grade class was always in trouble, and she quickly learned how to push my buttons. I resigned myself to a long year with her. Midway through the year, though, I came across the placement cards the kindergarten teachers had used when assembling the 1st grade classes. Her card described what a hard worker and sweet girl she was. I was shocked. I talked to her kindergarten teacher, who was equally shocked by the different child I described.

I began to see this student the way her kindergarten teacher saw her. In almost no time, our relationship changed, and she was a delight. Soon after that, her family moved, and she switched schools. The special education teacher with whom I worked said, "That's too bad; she was just getting it." I knew better. I was the one who was just getting it.

And Kirsten Hutchison from Comfrey, Minnesota writes:
Midway through the year, one student decided to fight me on everything, displaying all the attitude an 8th grade girl could muster. I did everything I could think of to restore the good relationship we'd had at the beginning of the year, but things continued to get worse. I finally went to the principal requesting that she be transferred out of my class, but received a "no." The next day, I took the girl out in the hall, sat down next to her on the floor, and forced a conversation. I told her that obviously neither of us really liked the other, but we'd have to figure out a way to survive the rest of the school year. There were no dramatic changes, but things started to improve—maybe because I had confronted the reality of the situation. By the end of the year, we'd reached a tenuous truce, and she moved on to high school.

The next fall, the girl's mother called me and asked if I'd be willing to keep in touch with her. A brother had been sent off to Afghanistan, and other family problems were making the situation at home tense. The mother said that for some reason, this girl felt a connection with me. I was happy to send an e-mail expressing my support. We e-mailed back and forth for a while, saw each other a couple of times to chat, and then the relationship ended.

This girl is out of school now, but a month ago she surprised me with an e-mail stating that she still remembered our relationship and the support she'd received from me. Hanging in there with students, even when the going gets tough, is worth it in the end.

I found the stories shared inspiring and recommend them to teachers everywhere. You can read the column here and the entire October issue is here.

And of course, if you have any stories about students that challenged you to be a better teacher, you can share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
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