From the Star
No matter how many years of college and preparation that you have, no one can really prepare you for what you encounter in your first year of teaching - especially when it comes to behavior problems. When I was in college I had lots of practicum work. I would go in, take baseline data, do interventions on a specific child and then take data on the results. I always choose the child that the teacher seemed to be struggling with and each time my interventions would succeed. As I saw these differences I wondered why the teachers always had such a problem with the child. However, now I realize that it is not that easy. The truth is that it is hard when you have 23 kids in a class of varying ages. It's hard to find the time to take data and continuously work one on one with a specific intervention with a specific child while you are managing all the other students. I feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air.
Being a Special Education major I thought that there was nothing that I hadn’t seen or couldn’t fix - especially in a “regular” education classroom. I think I had even become a little overconfident in my behavior management ability (remember I had been working with children one-on-one in my practicums!) By the second day of school there was one child that was jumping out at me. I had a third grader that just didn’t have any desire to do any work. At first I was not sure if the work was too hard or if it was a behavior problem. I found out very quickly that the work was not too hard. It was an issue of defiance, somewhat passive aggressive, not because he did not like me or despised the work but simply because he did not feel like doing it. In only two weeks I felt as though I have tried everything!
Let me start at the beginning. First I tried moving the student to a seat at the front of the classroom - proximity control - so that I could keep my eye on him, not to mention that I moved him to a seat that was near students who were more motivated - what other teachers call the "high" students. When this did not work, I tried to move him to a seat at a table where he could work independently. When this did not work, I started to get a little concerned because no matter where I moved him he seemed to get distracted and did not do his work. No matter what I did he would just sit there and look around the room - anything that involved him not doing his work. After all of my attempts I decided to take it to the next level. I called my mother!
After explaining the child and his behaviors she told me that I needed to get him to "want" to work for me. I had to use myself as the "external reinforcer until he could internalize the feeling and feel good about doing the work inside himself" (her words- not mine). After hanging up I thought, "Yeah right! I'd checked and he hadn’t ever done work for his teachers before. I had even talked to his mom. He wouldn’t do work for his own mother, so why would he ever decide that he wanted to do the work for me?" As I began to think deeper about what my mom said I thought “Hey that might really work” and besides I didn't really have any other ideas. So I began to think about all the ways that I could build a close relationship with him. I figured that the best way to build this relationship was to tap into his interests and use positive reinforcement. To my surprise this has turned the child completely around. He has now begun to finish activities and assignments. I also figured out that letting him work with one of his 4th grade buddies as a mentor has really helped.
So... this is what I have learned. When you have a child that is not motivated, you have to turn that around. You start by working on building a relationship with the child, using lots of positive reinforcement for what the child is doing right. It's easy to look at all that he is doing wrong. You have to work at finding things he is doing right! For some children, hearing all that good stuff makes them feel a little better about themselves and motivates them a little to give the work a try. Finding the right "friend" to buddy them up with can also make the situation better. I'm not sure this will work for every child and in every situation but it worked this time!