So I had a bit of a challenging case yesterday. Henry is a student in my class who has given up. He has decided he has an E grade, cannot bring it up to a pass and therefore isn’t planning to do anything for the rest of the term since he won’t pass regardless. Henry is a challenge across classrooms but my cooperating teacher observed that he will actually do some things for me that he won’t do for her. I try to give him as many choices as possible so he doesn’t feel backed into a corner. I also try to just notice things about him without any judgment, so he knows I see him and haven’t written him off.
But today I managed to get into a power struggle with him. I had a class where half was working silently on test corrections and the other half was still taking the test. Henry of course was doing neither but instead was working very hard on being distracting and disruptive.
I tried my usual tactics. I walked near his desk without saying anything to be a “reminding presence.”
“What!” he would bellow when did this.
I attempted being empathetic, whispering, “I know it is really hard to be quiet when you don’t have anything to help you focus. Let me know how I can help.”
“No, I’m good!” he half shouted.
“Oh,” I said. “Would you mind trying to keep quiet so that others can work?”
“Can’t do that” he responded.
I wanted to send him out but knew he’d refuse. He had some students giggling and others muttering ‘could you just shut up!’ Every time I went to another student to answer a question, he’d pop up. It was like playing whack-a-mole. And I was exasperated. Finally I walked over, looked him in the face and said, “Henry, do you have any idea, how much I care about you?” He was embarrassed as any adolescent boy would have been, but he was listening.
“I care hugely. I wish I could give you all my time today. I wish I knew how to help, but I don’t know what to do right now. I also care about every other student in here and most of them are trying exceptionally hard to work and are being distracted by you. I think I’m too upset to know what to do about these outbursts right now, so I’m going to have to think about it later, maybe tonight while I’m at home. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
Henry was quiet for a full five minutes after that, but started up again. The class was nearly over by this time so I let it go. Soon after the class was finished, I was able to talk with my cooperating teacher and we made a plan.
The next day I apologized to the class for not giving them enough time to work quietly and gave them 15 minutes to finish their work before lab. As they worked I went over to Henry before he had done anything.