By now most teachers have their class running pretty smoothly-- except for “those kids”. What about “those kids”? Perhaps he refuses to do his assignments, she might sit with a dreamy look on her face, he wiggles incessantly and plays with things in his desk, she talks constantly no matter where you put her, and what about the quiet boy who doesn’t want to go out at recess? As a teacher you want to help each child, but how? Nothing seems to be working.
With thirty years of study in learning styles and personality type combined not only with many years of tutoring “those kids”, but being one myself, I’ve found that there is a lot you can do to help the children who “march to the beat of a different drummer”. First must come understanding. Emotional factors must be ruled out. If there are problems at home, illness, or trauma, then there might be little you can do besides giving emotional support, but that is a lot and may help the child get through this difficult time. When things are settled, then you can help the child catch up.
A few children have problems that require medical assistance for them to function well in the classroom. They may need glasses, or have trouble hearing, or even have a chemical imbalance (extremely rare). These problems must be dealt with before the child can effectively learn.
What about the child who simply is who he is. He does not need to be medicated into a sham semblance of “normality” though it may make life easier for the adults. The truth is that not every child fits the ideal mold – learns by listening, desires order, works well in a group environment, and seeks adult approval. This is the way most teachers teach because this the type of person most of them are; they learn by listening, and are social and orderly. This is their natural way of teaching. It is who they are. The children who usually do well in the classrooms are the children who are the most like their teachers and learn in the same way.
It is difficult to try and teach thirty kids at one time and teachers teach to the “norm” just to survive. But what about the children who just can’t accommodate that most common teaching approach? Are these kids just “not trying”? Are they just “not paying attention”? Are they just “being difficult”, or are they just being themselves? Why is this child not learning?
The caring teachers try different teaching methods. In desperation they augment their lesson with pictures and graphs, preform experiments, and use music, but it has little effect on the child. They have tried other approaches and the child still isn’t learning, so they conclude that there must be something inherently the matter with the child. They succumb to the notion that the child needs to be “fixed”. Doctors are sought and sometimes drugs are advocated to make this child “normal”.
One teacher admitted to me that she came in to school one morning and cried to her principal that she didn’t know what to do about this little boy in her class. The first thing I always do when I am called in to help is observe the child. Does he seem depressed, discouraged, frustrated, bored, angry, tense, overwhelmed, confused, absorbed in thought, or is he calm and happy? Who does he relate with – peers, adults, or younger children? Does he seem eager to participate in class discussions, small groups, with a partner, or does he think best by himself? Does she thrive in the noisy bustle of a busy classroom, or does she seek quiet places to read and work? Does he get distracted by the people and things around him? Does she like everything structured, or does she just take things as they come? Does he ever hold still? When? Does she seem to become exhausted when she has to sit still for more than a few minutes? He may not be interested in what you are teaching, but what are his interests? When does she come alive? Is it during art, music, or sports?
When you begin to understand the child; their needs, strengths, weaknesses, and motivation, then you can begin to understand how to teach that child. My next blog will discuss some of “those children” and how to teach them.