September 13, 2016

In Defense of Troublemakers.

school photo
As students begin to fill the school yards and classrooms again, teachers are on the look-out.

Which students are going to enthusiastically soak in all the knowledge, who will stay behind to chat and get to know them, who will courageously seek any and all the extra help they can get, and which ones will be the troublemakers?

I want to talk about those last kids: the troublemakers

Whether we are teachers or students, parents, friends, or siblings, we all know them—the ones who are disruptive, talk in class, fidget in their seats, tip their desks and chairs back, and make passionate but smart-a**ed remarks. The ones who the other kids laugh at but who crawl right up under the teacher’s skin.

They show up without their homework done. They get called out in front of their peers, the deadly teacher-stare, pulled aside and talked to face-to-face. The teacher might have asked, “what’s going on with you?” but gotten pretty much nothing out of them, or perhaps a simple, “I don’t know” and a shrug of the shoulders.

Then maybe the student is sent to the office, gets a note to take home, or their parents get a phone call—but after no one sees a change, they give up. The trouble-makers get held back a grade or placed with a different teacher, or passed with a D and moved on up to the next teacher, the next grade level, without a second thought.

For a while, I was this kid. The “I don’t give a sh*t about anything,” “so what, yeah, okay, who cares” kid. I was kind of a jackass. I missed a lot of school, didn’t complete much of my homework, and would sometimes screw around in class.

When I was in sixth grade I lost my dad to suicide and, of course, that was when it started. My teachers were understanding then, but as I got older I got new teachers who didn’t know me, or my family history. When I got into high school I wasn’t all that rowdy or talkative in class. I just didn’t dedicate myself to my schoolwork or take anything seriously—and losing my dad wasn’t the only traumatic event I’d experienced.

I didn’t realize it then but I didn’t respect my teachers or care what they had to teach me, unless they saw and responded to me. I was lucky to have not just one, but two of these wonderful kinds of teachers in my life who didn’t just care enough to ask, “what’s wrong?” but dug deeper to look for answers in my work, to listen more carefully to what I had to say in class, and compare what they saw with what they found underneath.

They stopped asking me why I didn’t do my homework, and started asking me to tell them about my life, about how I was feeling that day, the day before, if I had gotten enough sleep, and enough to eat. I became comfortable enough to open up to them, to help them see why I didn’t always do my homework, or why I didn’t put in my best effort, or why I wouldn’t show up to class sometimes, or why I would show up to class but with my eyes barely open.

These two teachers became my solid ground at school. I knew that if anything happened I could go to them, and I wouldn’t sink. They ignored the rumors, the talk that I was “troubled,” and that other students should stay away from me. Because of those brave and patient teachers (and a few other brave and patient adults in my little supportive village), not only did I graduate high school despite all my struggles and absences, but I graduated from UCSD, because they told me I could. Because they were there.

So, teachers, I ask that when you look at your students, you see them as complex. See them as fragile little humans, standing in the middle of disarray. Keep asking why until you find the answer, and get creative with how you look for that answer. Each one will be different. Know that those trouble-makers are the ones that need you the most. But you cannot teach them anything until you can teach them to want to learn from you.

Parents of the child who is friends with the troublemaker, ask yourself what kind of example you will choose to set for your child? Will you too reach out, find out why this child is troubled and offer them a safe-haven, another hand of a stable adult to hold (because they need all the hands they can get), correct them when they need correcting, and protect them when they need protecting? Or will you just tell your child that they are not allowed to be friends anymore?

I lost a lot of friends that way because of how I acted out. But I was a kid. As an adult, I understand your need to protect your child, and encourage them to hang out with the “good crowd,” but there are ways you can do both. You can let them be friends, let the troubled kid stay the night with you, or make sure you actually speak to or see their parent before sending your child to stay the night with them, or make sure they are attended by an older sibling, or cousin, or a third trusted friend.

All you need to know is that, these troubled kids need you too.

They say it takes a village—and it does.


Author: Ashley Morgan

Image: Tony Alter/ Flickr

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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