Friday, July 6, 2012

Classroom Management - How Do I Teach With That Kid In My Class?

   If you're reading this, you probably have an idea of who "that kid" is.  We've all had them.   They are known by everyone in the school (especially the office personnel). You probably were made aware of them before they entered your classroom for the first time.  If you're like me, when you spotted their name on your class list, your stomach churned a bit (even though you're a positive, innovative + enthusiastic teacher). "That kid" has a reputation. And for some reason, they are never absent.
   I've taught many "that kids" throughout my teaching career. I've gotten into a routine of praying for my upcoming class at times during the summer months.  I always ask God to give me a class that I can teach effectively.  I ask for students that are like clay - pliable, malleable.  It's usually the "that kids" that later cause me to mutter a prayer something like, "God, I know you know what you're doing, but I asked for clay that was workable! This clay is rock hard."
   What I've learned (not so easily at times), is that like clay, "that kid" needs to be warmed up before he or she becomes pliable.  The "that kid" in your classroom probably thinks (initially) that you don't like them.  I know.  I've asked them.  So the clay arrives hard, cold, and sometimes unwilling to be molded.  My job is to try to warm up the clay.
   You might be thinking - "Hey wait a minute!  What about the responsibility of the student?  Teachers deliver the opportunity for success, but students need to step up and do their part."  I agree 100%.  But if you can get "that kid" to warm up, not only will they benefit, but your entire class will benefit also.  Your days will be much more productive and enjoyable. The overall learning environment is enriched.
   So how do we warm up "that kid" (or any kid)?  Each student has his or her own characteristics which require an individualized approach in many instances.  I've listed some of my strategies below.  Some I've read, others I've developed as needed. It isn't a complete list, and many of the techniques which I use with my students may not apply to your situation. You probably may already be using many of them.

- Greet all your students at the door with a smile and warm comments every day. Always touch base with your "that kid".  It helps them relax and you can assess their demeanor before you begin teaching.

- Teach in close proximity to "that kid" when needed.  Sit next to them a few times a day.

- Monitor "that kid" as closely as you can - especially in non-classroom settings.  If they know that you'll frequently show up in the lunchroom, on the playground, in the bathroom (if appropriate), etc., they are less likely to misbehave.

- Communicate to "that kid's" parents that you know their child is going to have a successful school year.  Use a daily communication form so parents know how he/she is doing each day.  Try to be as positive as possible on these reports.  Usually these parents have heard many negative comments so they've become somewhat numb to them. Realize that they might be feeling guilty about their child's behavior issues.  Try to put them at ease.

- Use all of the resources at your disposal to build a team approach with the student.  Social workers, administrators, counselors, classroom aides, etc. can all help support your efforts, and often have fresh ideas that can be implemented.

- Talk to "that kid" about something other than school.  Find out what interests them.  Surprise them by taking out library books about topics they like.

-Try to use "that kid's" name in a positive way frequently.  When he or she needs redirection, ask them if they're ok and/or whether or not they understand what they're supposed to be doing.  I've found that this approach often results in them getting back on task more quickly than the "Why aren't you working?" comment.

- Look for any spark in "that kid" and then pour gasoline all over it.  If they do something well, try to make them feel like an expert in that area.  Ask them to help other kids who may need a partner.  Catch them making right choices.

- Determine what subject or skill frustrates them, and turn a negative into a positive. Help them to overcome feelings of failure by giving extra assistance.  It's time well spent.  I recently had a student who hated quiet reading time, and would just look at the pictures in books.  He would ask to use the bathroom, get a drink, etc. I got in the habit of reading next to him, and after a few weeks, he started really reading and finishing books.  Later on, his only problem during silent reading time was his desire to discuss whatever book he was reading.  Not a bad problem to have huh?

- Give "that kid" a job to do so they can experience success and a feeling of accomplishment.

- Talk to them about behavior issues on "their time" not "your time."  Kids don't mind discussing behavior issues during lesson times right? It's amazing how well these kids listen during lunchtime, recess, before school, or after school (their time).  I've discovered that giving up part of my "planning time" to address an issue pays huge dividends later.

- Surprise "that kid's" mom or dad with a positive phone call or comment at a school event.  I remember recently telling a mom, "I noticed that _____ really has a lot of athletic ability." The mother's entire expression changed, and she talked with me for ten minutes about her son's accomplishments in baseball and basketball.  It created a positive springboard for future communication.

- Show "that kid" that you trust them.  This one can be difficult, but I promise you that it often causes the cold clay to heat up.  At times, I'll  purposefully leave something in the trunk of my car and give my keys to "that kid" and say, "Here's my car keys.  Will you go out and get such and such out of my trunk and bring it to me right away?  And don't even think about taking off in my car."  Everyone laughs and "that kid" is empowered. "That kid" is the only one who gets my keys. (My classroom is next to the parking lot, so I'm watching the whole time.)  I've found that most kids usually love to help.

- Let other teachers who have "that kid" in their class (art, PE, music, etc.) know how he/she is doing. Have the student bring a behavior plan so everyone is on the same page regarding the student's goals.  If you can get other staff members to buy into your plan, you will see improvement. 

- Have a sense of humor.  Be light, not heavy. Laugh at yourself and let "that kid" laugh at you too sometimes. You're showing them that you're secure in who you are.  You're sending the message that you enjoy your job and they are part of that enjoyment.

    I find it interesting that so many "that kids" often return to visit me when they're in middle school, high school, or after they have graduated. Warming up the clay can be challenging, but it's exciting to see an enriched individual emerge from it!  May we all continue to be enthusiastic clay warmers.  Hike on!

Want to share this post? Click below.
Follow my blog for more cool ideas for teachers and kids.  Thank you!


  1. As a special ed teacher ... my WHOLE class is really filled with "that kid" Currently i have 11 of them on my roster! Thanks for sharing this post! I do a whole lotta this stuff on a daily, moment-by-moment basis!

    Great post!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly! Your tips are so incredibly vital for "that kid" but also for the quiet kid, the goofy kid..every kid. This is absolutely how I teach and have always seen success! Thanks, Tom! I'm pinning this for future "bad days" :)

  3. This are some wonderful tips! I already know I will have that kid this upcoming year. I found your blog through another blog and glad to find a fellow Michigan teacher. Your blog looks great! I also had Erica design my blog for me.

    Apples and Papers

  4. I think your clay analogy is very effective, especially for teachers who don't already believe as you do. If I'm honest, when I think back to the students who I feel most proud about helping, they are usually "that kid" that no one knew what to do with. Thanks for writing such an inspirational post with some great tips. Even teachers who consistently work hard with "that kid" will benefit from reading the list when they are extra-frazzled in a few months. :) -Stacey

  5. Great ideas for dealing with difficult behaviors! I found your blog through Farley's linky party. I am your newest follower!
    Swersty’s Swap Shop

  6. I had "that kid" last year. You can tell you are great with classroom management because the things you are saying are so true. I hope more people read your post because what you said is so important to helping those struggling kiddos. "That kid" in my classroom last year will always be special to me. Although he REALLY took some warming up, he and I had a great relationship. :)

    We are giving you the Versatile Bloggers award. Stop by our blog to check it out. :)
    Antoinette and Emily

  7. Wow... great advice. I'm a parent not a teacher, but I clicked through to read what you had to say. Sounds like you're a gifted teacher.

  8. This is such a great post. I found myself nodding my head in agreement the whole time I was reading. I would say that I have at least 4 kiddos like that every year. About 5 years ago, I learned about Conscious Discipline. It is the most amazing and powerful thing I have EVER learned. It is all about building your school family. It is creating those connection between everyone in a safe learning environment. One of Our School Family jobs is the Greeter. We also have the job of the Encourager and Cheerleader. I would love for you to come read more about it on my blog.

    I am happy to be your newest follower.

    Thank you for this inspirational post. =)


    Heather's Heart

  9. What a wonderful post. Your list of strategies are great. Thanks for taking the time to write them down to share with us.
    ✰ Stacy

    Simpson Superstars

  10. As former teacher of "twice exceptionals" I spent three years with classrooms full of "that kids". Before that I'd always had at least a handful each year. By the time they came to me in Middle school they were often pretty emotionally beat up - and YES by teachers, fellow students and parents alike. It was so refreshing to read your much more positive take, I have included a link at the bottom of my article about teaching "wiggle worms" aka ADHD kids as well as those who aren't really ADHD but still need to move. Please check it out (!/2012/05/teaching-wiggle-worms.html).

    I'll definitely be visiting this blog again!

  11. Thank you so much for the link. Last year I took my 4th graders for a short run around the playground every day at mid morning. They loved it and I'd run with them (or behind them). I found them to be tired and much more relaxed for the rest of the morning. The brain research about movement and cognitive activity supports this. I'm a believer in getting kids moving. It's good for teachers too. :)

  12. LOVE this! I am a teacher, and we all have "that kid" in our class. But I am also a parent with "that kid". LOVE these ideas.

  13. This is great! I especially like when "that kid" comes back to check in the following year. It makes all the tough times worth it. Thanks for sharing.


  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. "That kid" often receives consequences are negative (no recess, sit down, be quiet, wait here, etc).....your ideas are not only POSITIVE but also require MOVEMENT (brilliant).....and show the child you are right their with them.....that you are their biggest cheerleader, you trust them, you are interested in what makes them tick, and EXPECT them to rise to the occasion. I love, love, love it! I will read these suggestions over again and recommend to others. Thank you and God bless you!