I’ve never met a lazy student.
Many of you know that I was a public school teacher and then school counselor for 30 years. But before that I taught kids part-time in a private school setting. I’ve been working with ADHD kids and teens since 1984.
Much to my surprise, my career started with the more challenging students. No one knew I had ADHD because, back then, I kept it a secret. Those were simply the classes I was given. The first day in a public school setting, I thought the kids were rude and lazy. We had been trained to teach class a certain way and my first day was a disaster. The students weren’t serious at all and they were disruptive beyond belief. I tried to have a conversation about right and wrong and about respecting people but they weren’t listening.
Can I do this my way?
I went to my mentor teacher at the end of the second day (which was a Friday) and asked, “Do I have to teach this way because it’s not working with these kids?” She asked, “What do you have in mind?” I said, “I want to go slower. I want them to work but I also want them to understand that this is what I expect from them and here’s how we’re going to do that. I want to meet them where they are instead of holding expectations that are beyond them at the moment.” She agreed to my plan.
I worked on fleshing out the plan all weekend. I decided that if I built the structure first, and took time for them to learn it, then I could go to the next step, and so on. (Remember, these were the challenging students).
I gave them rules!
I went old-fashioned on them. I gave them a set of rules and announced,
“Remember when I said this is your classroom? It’s not. It’s my classroom. My job is to teach you. I blew it last week so I’m taking my classroom back. You have no idea how very much I want you to learn and to enjoy this class, but I can’t teach unless you cooperate. Here are the rules. If you stick to them, class will go fast and you’ll have free time or time to do homework. If you goof around, you will be miserable every single day because you won’t get the fun out of the class – there won’t be time for fun. So, you have all week to memorize these rules. We’ll take a quiz every day until you pass. When you pass, you’ll get an A on this quiz. If you pass tomorrow, you can read whatever you want for the rest of the week – comics or books or magazines – as long as it’s something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to show your grandmother. If you don’t pass tomorrow, then you need to study tomorrow. At the end of the week, when you’ve all passed, you will get candy.”
Well, first of all, any misstep and we just referred to the rules, so it was a chance to learn the rules in real life too. We didn’t enforce them the first day except for the big ones, like hitting and name-calling. And everything was very calm by the second day – everybody knew they’d get an A if they passed. For some of them, free reading was the motivation. For others, staring at the paper and not being bugged was motivation to prolong the test-taking until the last day. And they had that choice the first week.
To my delight, students that had passed the test asked if they could tutor the kids that hadn’t passed. We had a couple of teams of two, sitting quietly and learning. It was the week we bonded. And it was the week that I decided that unruly kids are unruly because they’re hoping that we’ll step up and give them a better solution than the one they default to – misbehavior.
They championed themselves
The year was amazing. On our last day, I said to them all, “Thank you for showing me your hearts. I know it wasn’t easy and I just want you to know how grateful I am to have been a part of your year.” This was June, 1990. And I need to remind you, again, that these were the kids that were discarded, the “lazy” kids, the “bad kids.” What I saw was a group of kids with hearts so big that it was safer to be angry and to goof around than it was to feel their own pain.
I still remember Britt, who wanted as much attention as possible, and Frankie whose mom worked 3 jobs to make ends meet, and Brian who told me how to dumpster dive for your dinner, and Luke who, with his mother, was running from an abusive father, and Tim who couldn’t spell his last name because of learning disabilities, and Juan who just wanted a friend.
They weren’t lazy. They had a lot going on and couldn’t settle their minds.
Kids aren’t lazy. Here’s what they are instead:
- Immature for the task as presented
- Distressed emotionally
- Hungry (literally)
- Needing guidance
- Needing boundaries
- Needing the adult to be the adult
- Needing to spend a little more time as a kid
- Learning challenged
- Afraid to be teased
- Physically challenged in some way that only a doctor can figure out
- Emotionally challenged in some way that only a therapist can figure out
We need to stop calling kids “Lazy,” and start looking for what’s really going on. For those of us that have kids that are neuro-divergent (I don’t think the word “neuro-diverse” is correct), assume the best.
Give your kids the benefit of the doubt. Yes, sometimes they’re playing you, but sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they don’t know what to do and they want you to step up and help them, love them, and tell them that it’s going to be okay.
Copyright 2017. Yafa Crane Luria. All Rights Reserved
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