My Version of a Tightrope

For this post, please picture me in a tutu with those fabulous lace up ballet shoes. I would never actually buy them, but sometimes, I think they sound amazing. We are not going to explore that one any further.

So my metaphorical tightrope is my relationship with Big Boy. I wrote an oh-so-controversial post about him awhile back and thought maybe just mentioning him (and that apparently scandalous post) would spice things up a bit.

Feeling spicy yet?

Well I’m feeling bad about myself. Definitely not spicy. And I rarely feel that bad about myself- in fact, I tend to air on the side of arrogant. (No! Say it ain’t so!) (Hey, I may be arrogant, but at least I’m honest.) I just can’t jive with Big Boy. At all.

Now typically, my fabulously arrogant self LOVES the naughty boys. They’re just so…naughty. Like Curly – who doesn’t love tons of curls and a saucy tude? And this year I have Mr. Suave (he has his hair gelled back, wears a chain and cologne…wait, did you hear me? I said he wears COLOGNE! I mean, does it get any cuter?) who has a very naughty side but also busts his little behind to do his best in class. Heart him.

But this naughty boy…dude. I just don’t have any words. Ok, that is untrue. I have many words, but they are not very nice and therefore, must stay in my head.

Yes, naughty boys are frustrating, but I can always find something to love about them. Something to hold on to (like a freaking life raft) when all I want to do is scream. But with Big Boy, I am at a loss. A total lost. I am adrift with no life raft. I don’t even have a vest or one of those little whistle thingys.

I have talked to him, I have put him on behavior charts, I have met with his parents, met with previous teachers, yelled, rationalized, sweet-talked, given him a job, excluded him from fun activities, tried to rely on his interests, praised him….my inventory of Teacher Tricks is exhausted. I am at my wits end.

I find this particularly disappointing/disheartening because I recently made a Resolution (which I usually stay far away from). I resolved to Be More Positive. For reals. Me. Positive. It’s possible (jerks). I am prone to getting beat down by my own color-coded To Do Lists and Day-To-Day drama when in actuality, I just have too many good things going on and nothing to really be upset about. I know, it’s a very mature stance. I was feeling extremely self-actualized until I came to work today.

Big Boy did not have his homework. (He didn’t have it yesterday either.) He didn’t have the note I sent home to his mother. He didn’t have his independent reading books. He didn’t do any writing during the 45 minutes he had to write. He told me that math was too hard for him. (Mind you, boyfriend is quite smart and was complaining about TRACING pattern blocks..dude, it’s tracing…you haven’t even gotten to the hard part yet!) And if we think about what he DID do today….he did push children on the stairs. He did call another child in my class “fatty.” He did disrespect another teacher. He did disrupt everyone else’s learning with inappropriate laughter. He did whine when I spoke to him about his behavior. He did ask for Chance #400. He did act like he was surprised when I asked him to leave the room to take a breather.


I’m not being very Positive in 2009, am I?

P.S. “Be More Positive” is not an original resolution for me…I’ve tried to climb that mountain before.

Sigh again.

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  • My resolution was to be more positive too…that lasted all of five minutes. Then I got to school and everyone was all snarky, you know, the usual crap. I just can’t help myself! If I am surrounded by snarkiness it tends to rub off.

    You rock though, Mimi! It stinks that you can’t seem to get through to Big Boy, but no one can say you haven’t tried. If I had any fabulously brilliant ideas, I’d let you in on them, but it seems like you have done about everything I would think of too.

    Sigh…maybe we can be more positive next year.

    January 7, 2009 at 2:08 am
  • I have a Big Boy this year too and it’s leaving me out of patience as well. I’m amazed at the effect he has on my classroom AND on my attitude. Ergh. I’m hoping we’ll see some positive changes — new year, new effort? One can hope!

    January 7, 2009 at 2:46 am
  • Some kids! It only seems just if your class list came with a liter bottle of vodka when you get one of them. Chin up- the year is half gone!

    January 7, 2009 at 3:06 am
  • I think there’s something broken in everyone – teacher and student. I had one kid who was a nightmare. He brought a knife to school, tossed a chair at a girls head, etc. None of this happened in my class, but in my class, he was disruptive. Nothing worked.

    Then he was gone for a few weeks. We figured he’d dropped out. A month later, while we were all painting over graffiti, I saw a picture of him on a Missing Child poster. At the bottom, was a note say, “If you see him, tell him his mom loves him and misses him.”

    And it struck me just how broken and fragile everyone is and I had a strange sense that I wanted nothing more than to have one conversation with that kid.

    January 7, 2009 at 3:29 am
  • Wow – powerful story…I feel so guilty all the time because I think something is very wrong with Big Boy and know he must be so sad. And then I feel sorry for him and try to get closer to him and…I don’t know. I wonder what’s broken in me (besides my enormous ego)? We still have over 100 days…I’m going to get to this one. I hope. Thinking Positive! (I can’t just up and abandon the resolution on day 6 – and round 3, can I?) Or can I…

    January 7, 2009 at 3:32 am
  • This is going to sound lame but I started reading Dale Carnegie books. You know, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Loving Your Job!” I have them all but that one was the best because it told me to find something in everything to love. I know, I know. Well, I had this kid who was horrible, just like Big Boy except he was 10 years old and the tiniest thing who preyed on and picked fights with bigger kids. Go figure. Before I hatched my evil plan, I had a good talking to to my class when he wasn’t around. I told them to basically ignore him, pretend he wasn’t around, and that he’d get tired of being ignored because all he wanted was attention. Then I told them I was going to give him so much attenton that he’d get sick of me. What did I do? I decided to treat this kid like he was my boyfriend. Gross, right? Everyday he came in, I would ask him how he was, what he did last night, etc. I would really listen to him. In the hallways, I would greet him and say something great about him. After a month of this crap from me, he got sick of me, calmed down and started acting like a normal human being. Got honey?

    January 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm
  • Geez, your writing is so good.

    My .02:

    The tightrope is a tough act. But there’s a finish line, an endpoint. Each successful step is clear progress towards that point.

    One aspect of the Big Boy challenge, as teachers, is we have no idea where the finish line is.

    Perhaps the finish line is tomorrow. Big Boy tries and behaves. Probably not.

    It could be after 100 more days, you finally have a Big Boy Breakthrough.

    It could be that all your energy doesn’t pay off in any obvious way this whole year. (Even there, maybe your efforts prevent him from worsening. That would put the next Mimi in a better position to help him later.)

    Perhaps….BB never shapes up.

    It’s a tightrope, yes, but with an invisible finishing point, where you never know if 1 or 10 or 100 more steps gets you to the platform.

    It’s disorienting.

    But nice to read that, after some healthy venting, you’ll keep trucking.

    January 7, 2009 at 5:52 pm
  • There really is a big boy in everyone…I rememher when I was younger and all the crazy stuff I would do. It’s hard but there is a way to reach him….everyone has something that they enjoy, it just might take you till May to find it.

    However….try to remain positive. I’m sure next year he’ll be one of those students who just be giving you hugs or some kind of emotion. Hopefully.

    If not, than well….I think you tried your best and there’s no fault in that. Better luck next year.

    January 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm
  • We all have those kids we just don’t like. Most of us are too nice (read afraid) to say it. I teach special needs. All my teenagers have behaviors. Most are violent or very, very dirty. Or both. I deal. It’s part of the job. I change teenagers diapers (some will play with or eat thier poo – see, dirty), I get puked on (becuase puking is a sensory activity and is apparently fun). I can deal with a seventeen year old peeing on the floor and lifting me off the ground by my neck. It’s not thier fault. They have behaviors because thier brains are not working like ours. What I can’t deal with is one kid who knows that much of what he’s doing is wrong and hurts people. I’m pretty sure he can help it. But he likes biting, hitting, pulling hair and attacking people. I’d even say he loves it. It’s the only thing he takes joy in. For that, I pity him. Can you imagine the only joy in your life coming from causing bodily pain to another person? I have a hard time liking that child. I don’t like him. I both dislike him and fear him. I’m just being honest. But, since it’s part of my job, I pretend to like him and I hope that he can’t tell the difference. My point? Don’t beat yourself up. I can tell you are great at your job and you love it (most of the time). There is a point everyone has when they just can’t deal with one more thing from that certain person. You can’t fix everyone. I know you’ll keep trying though. Good teachers do.

    January 7, 2009 at 11:41 pm
  • I have Big Boy’s older brother, The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk, that’s what we call him for short, is basically as big as a gorilla with a really bad attitude. I have yelled at this kid, I have cursed at him (I’m not proud!). I have complimented, and encouraged. I have tried to ignore. I have asked nicely.

    The only thing that ever seems to get The Hulk to chill is a little bit of TLC and one-on-one. If he is sitting where the class is aware of him, he is not going to function. If he is sitting in a private area, he’s going to do some work and do it right. If he gets a little teacher attention, he might smile.

    Then he’ll curse at someone and graffiti all my desks.

    So, you know, there’s never a finish-line, maybe. I don’t want to tell you to try those things, but maybe you should.


    January 8, 2009 at 2:22 am
  • Hang in there, Mimi! I remember one time, a wise supervisor of mine at Berkeley said that your feelings can be diagnostic of how the kid feels. So when you are frustrated, upset, annoyed, feeling like you have no control, feeling negative, that’s what Big Boy might be feeling. He may be trying to elicit that from you and get you to feel how he feels. Many times these little (or big!) guys are replaying out all their bad interactions because they are familiar. Give him a different experience other than rejection and you will change his life. You may not “see” the rewards, um, ever, but it’s helping, I promise. Judge each day not by the harvest, but by the seeds you plant!

    I KNOW it’s so hard. Keep us all posted…

    January 8, 2009 at 5:49 am
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    January 8, 2009 at 11:18 am
  • I had some kids that I just couldn’t unlock. In one case I suspected it was a gender thing – maybe a reaction to me based on someone with a negative influence in his life. If he has some bad relations with important women in his life there may be a connection. I’m curious how he responds to men.

    January 8, 2009 at 4:27 pm
  • Maybe I’m just too old and bitter, but… sometimes… there’s only so much you can do.

    I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to understand why I should kill myself trying to reach those kids who try so danged hard to remain unreachable, when I could be spending that energy teaching the kids who want to learn.

    Yes, we all want to be THAT TEACHER. The one who finally breaks through to that kid and then gets books written about her and Oscar-winning movies made about her. But the odds aren’t that great for us, are they? After all, how many teachers are there? And how many Freedom Writers or Stand and Delivers are there?

    Maybe I’m old and cynical… yes, Big Boy and all the other kids like him are hurting, and we should be that person to reach out and heal each and every one of them – but how far can we go? And what about Suzy, who does bring her homework every day and participates in class, and is eager to learn and would love to get just a sliver of the attention you give to Big Boy and the other bad boys, but she’s just a shy goody-two-shoes and doing “well enough” so we don’t have time to focus on her, because we’re too busy pulling our hair out about Big Boy?

    (PS – in comparison to me, you’re doing great on the “be more positive” thing!)

    January 9, 2009 at 5:23 am
  • Sounds like my week..and I have a “Big Boy” too..well actually 2 of them. One started off the week helping me ruin my new years resolution (which is identical to yours..although I think I officially labeled it “turning over a new leaf…well that leaf wilted about 10 minutes into the day Monday)…And Number 2 finished off my week by throwing his Math book at me…so much so that I had been putting off going to the Dr. for this cough I have had since oh, Thanksgiving…so at my Grade level meeting I yesterday I decided I needed to take a “me Day” and go to the dr. today.

    So many people I vent to in my building say “oh they’re just being boys”…but then I gently remind them that I have 15 of them (I teach a single gender class of 4th grade boys)…and I know what you are thinking “well you ONLY have 15 students” take BIG Boy and multiply him by 15..beause I not only got the majority of the ones with behavior issues, I also have an inclusion 6 of them have IEPs.
    Hang in there..Spring Break is coming soon..just not soon enough!!!

    January 9, 2009 at 4:26 pm
  • I’ve got four Big Boys, and they’re all in the same classroom. And they really ARE big, because they’re 11th graders. And even better – I had all four of them last year too. Some people are just lucky.

    I’ve tried everything too, and at the end of the day, I gave and they chose not to receive. What can you do?

    Last year, one of them asked me why I care so much. I answered honestly: “I don’t know. I just do.”

    The only thing that has worked for me is being on their side against the administration – on those rare occasions when I can be on their side and not get fired. Then I might have them for a day or two, and I make the most of it while it lasts.

    You’re doing what you can. It’s up to them to accept it.

    January 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm
  • gosh…interesting comments from everyone! I haven’t met my little munchkins for 2009 yet…but I think we all go into a new year being positive, trying to make good changes etc. Only time will tell how successful we have been…

    January 14, 2009 at 11:33 am
  • I am new to your blog and fell in love instantly! I am a special-education teacher. I work with students with behavior disorders and learning disabilities. I HEART it! Anyway, keep staying positive. Don’t let this little guy drag you down. All he needs to know is that you care. Hang in there 🙂 I look forward to more posts.

    January 14, 2009 at 6:21 pm
  • I also have a student that I just can’t find a thing about him that I like this year. I’m trying… really, really trying. Behavior contracts, parent conferences, you name it.

    I will say though that last year I didn’t have a student like this one. Nope, not and my class was a bore! I wasn’t challenged in the ways I like to be challenged. While it stinks being called names and having to call my Big Boy’s mother because he called someone a penis, at least there is personality it my class.

    January 15, 2009 at 2:09 am
  • I admire your resillience. What did the parents say when you talk to them? Any hint of what might be causing his behavior?

    Keep us posted and good luck!

    January 15, 2009 at 3:51 pm
  • Big Boy sounds like he needs a board across his fanny. Some kids can be so annoying! I love working with them – but there are a few that really… well, let’s just say that one child can make one want to leave the profession.

    BTW, I think you should vent. If you don’t your head could explode!

    January 16, 2009 at 11:08 am
  • Your blog is so great! But don’t worry… only one more semester to go! Then summer!

    January 20, 2009 at 7:58 am
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    January 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm
  • Your blog is so funny and true. The public school system seems like a nightmare. Have you ever considered working overseas? I have been at a private international school for over 10 years and much of the inane crap you are dealing with is just absent here. Consider it!

    January 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm
  • There’s no reliable formula for dealing with any student who is a behavioral problem, but I agree with Rebecca…

    “Give him a different experience other than rejection and you will change his life.”

    The “different experience” I used to give hard cases was a trip to the hallway where I confided in them that I needed their help to keep the class moving along in a positive direction. Generally, the hard case’s reaction was amazement and a commitment to help me do my job.

    A little humility can go a long way.

    January 22, 2009 at 5:29 am
  • Just as one can lead a horse to water but one cannot make it drink, one can lead a student to knowledge but you cannot make them think. Sad you have to deal with one like Big Boy.

    January 30, 2009 at 6:41 pm
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    March 3, 2009 at 2:22 pm

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