This kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.
“I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to do anything you say today,” the 5th grader informed me. “I’m going to have a bad day, and so are you. This is what I always do with subs.”
I was a bit taken aback by his statement. While I imagine a fairly high percentage of students consider a similar plan of action when they see a substitute teacher at the front of the room, most of them don’t actually say so. Especially to my face. And most of them choose to go along with me once I convince them it will be more fun than trying to sabotage me.
I pride myself on my ability to win over and motivate difficult students, so it was especially humiliating that I couldn’t get anywhere with this one. Incentives didn’t work. Logic didn’t work. Being friendly didn’t work. Neither did behavioral momentum, peer pressure, or planned ignoring. When I finally resorted to threats, they didn’t work either.
The rest of the class was great, but this kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.
Our Ability to Choose
I am grateful for this student, because he reminded me that one thing we humans all have in common is the ability to choose our actions. We can be encouraged, manipulated, bribed, tricked, or convinced to act, but in the end we all get to decide how we’re going to respond.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
And he also said this:
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
As educators, we face tremendous challenges every day. There are many things we can’t control. But we can choose where we put our energy and focus, and we can choose to use the situation, however painful, to help us grow.
Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com
PS – You can change your focus and energy by looking for what’s going right in your situation. Yes, things may be going wrong, but I guarantee you at least one thing is going right! If you are an Awesome Teacher Nation member, feel free to download this coloring sheet from the Educator Resources section of our Resource Library. Not a member yet? You can join here. It’s free!
Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources
- Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
- 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
- The Take-Charge Teacher
- All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
- The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
- The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2
- Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
- Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
- 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
- What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?
- Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
- Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
- A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
- The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide