William and Jonathan have officially pushed me to the breaking point. Today, when I brightly called Jonathan over for guided reading, I was rewarded with a huge sigh and body language that screamed, "I hate reading, school, and you (not necessarily in that order)." While Jonathan and I were having our guided reading, William was doing what he does best: simultaneously not reading at all and preventing other kids from doing their reading.
During the mini lesson, Joseph ripped a sticker (presumably awarded to him earlier in the day) off his shirt, tore it in half, and then proceeded to rip it into tinier pieces that he stuck to each of his fingernails like he was giving himself a manicure. Meanwhile, William was playing with some little toy on wheels, which I valiantly tried to ignore until it went skidding across the table and clattered to the floor, causing everyone else in the group to turn around because they completely lack the ability to ignore a distracting classmate.
After the mini lesson, I called an emergency circle meeting to discuss why our group has recently devolved into a cesspool of eye-rolling, loud sighing, ridiculously gloomy body language and general rudeness and mutiny. Even my sweetest, hardest working, most enthusiastic kids have lately been all doom and gloom. I think it's spring fever, only without the spring.
So anyway, I'm having this emergency circle meeting at which we're getting to the root of the various obstacles to becoming good readers: "I'm tired," "I have a headache," "I have a stomachache," "My eyes hurt," "Other people are bothering me and then everyone gets in a fight," "I'm bored." Bored is the one that killed me, because guess what? TC is boring. And guess what? School is probably boring too. A typical schedule for these kids is reading, writing, word work, lunch, math, read aloud, social studies. It's been a long winter, so they don't go out for recess. They don't get choice time. They don't get to play games, or draw. It's just go go go all the time with academics -- no wonder they're bored. It's a virtual pressure cooker of academia.
Anyway, I humored them and took suggestions on how to make our reading time more interesting. Of course, I got the usual "You could let us play with toys in school," to which I was all, hello, you already know how to play with toys, you don't need someone to teach you how to play with toys, but how about someone teaching you how to read? But then some of the kids actually offered some halfway thoughtful suggestions, like giving them more opportunities to choose their own reading material or occasionally letting them use a puppet to act out their books. OK, I can work with that.
Can Jonathan work with that? Obviously not, because he spent this discussion trying to shove some tiny broken pieces of God knows what through slats in the closet door. When a classmate hissed at him to stop, he yelled at her. When I reminded the group at large that if we see someone doing the wrong thing, and we try to help them do the right thing, but they continue to do the wrong thing, we should just take care of ourselves and ignore them, he took this as an opportunity to taunt his classmate.
Meanwhile, while I was trying to have this genuine, grown-up discussion in a circle on the floor, William was sitting above us on a chair, being obnoxious. Yelling out things like, "It should be a toy workshop in here!" Flat out refusing to join us in the circle ("I ain't going nowhere down there with them!") but also refusing to relocate to a different spot in the room. In short, William is only satisfied when he is working his hardest to antagonize everyone else. If I ignore him, he goes right on being disruptive until he is impossible to ignore. But if I give him the attention he wants -- whether it's positive or negative -- he shuts down completely, pulling his sweatshirt over his head or burying his head in his arms. But then five minutes later, he's at it again. Because he doesn't know how to be part of a group, doesn't understand how to make friends without acting like a clown who calls attention to himself.
Their classroom teacher and I have tried virtually everything for these two boys. We have communicated with their parents through e-mails, notes home and phone calls about positive and negative behavior. We have tried rewards of every shape and size. We have awarded special privileges and taken them away. We have tried partnering them with every variety of classmate and sitting them in every variety of reading spot with every variety of reading material. We have been patient and we have been generous. But now my patience is exhausted, I am out of strategies to try and I don't know how we are going to survive the next two and a half months.