Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why can't we just get along?

One of my students hates me, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Sure, I've had students express anger and even rage at me before.  I've had students glare at me and grumble at me and gripe at me.  I've even had students yell at me.  But having never team-taught before, I've never experienced a situation where a student is so freaking rude to me alone -- not my co-teacher, but only me.

Edward registered on my radar at the beginning of the year as a slightly spacey, soft-spoken kid who appeared to be in his own world most of the time but occasionally contributed really insightful comments during read aloud.  His mother wrote us thoughtful notes about how she was working with Edward on his maturity.

Then, a few months into the school year, Mom got a new job.  Edward started coming to school wearing dirty clothes, or clothes that were inside-out and backwards, or, most bizarrely, his karate uniform.  He started putting his head down and falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon, and complaining that he was hungry and hadn't eaten dinner or breakfast.  He stopped doing work altogether in class, stopped participating in African dance, and started antagonizing his classmates (one of whom I overheard exclaiming with exasperation, "Why is Edward so hard to work with?!"). 

And he started a significant crusade against me.  When I said in a casual, friendly voice, "Hey, Edward, what's in your lunch bag there?" he snapped, "None of your business!"  When I try to talk to him, about anything, he frequently puts his hands over his ears or a book in front of his face and says, "Blah blah blah!"  He's asked me never to speak to him again, he's expressed a desire to petition the principal to have me fired and, most oddly, he's told me I smell like carrots (I diplomatically replied that I would take that as a compliment). 

He can't explain -- or has chosen not to explain -- why he has such a huge problem with me, but no problem with my co-teacher.  (Not that his interactions with her are a bed of roses, but he will at least follow her directions, whereas he has actually run away from me on numerous occasions.)  The only reason we've ever been able to eke out of him is that I'm "mean."  But I make every effort to speak to him in a polite, civilized tone of voice, and still our classroom interactions play out like this:

(Edward is rolling around on the carpet taking up spots that should belong to other kids.)
Miss Brave: "Edward, please sit up."
(No response from Edward. Ms. Halpert comes over.)
Ms. Halpert: "Edward, sit up NOW!"
(Edward sits up.)

A-ha, you might be thinking, it sounds like Edward is one of those kids who responds better to stern voices!  Except when I do the stern voice, Edward claims I am "screaming" at him.  I can assure you: In our classroom, it is Ms. Halpert who does most of the screaming.

I honestly didn't think it would bother me this much -- after all, as I said, I've had kids dislike me before -- but when every day he is insufferably rude to me and then responds to Ms. Halpert, I can't help taking it personally.  Edward has decided I don't have to listen to anything Miss Brave says, because she is mean.  So we're locked in this vicious cycle where I try to ignore his behavior, only to have him amp it up to the point where he's literally throwing it in my face (watch me misbehave! ha ha!), so I feel compelled to address it, and then I get: You're mean. Yesterday I informed him that he would not be participating in choice time, and he responded with, "That's what you say."  In the end he spent choice time sitting next to Ms. Halpert wearing the angriest of angry faces, but didn't talk back to her the way he always talks back to me.

We're working to get counseling added to Edward's services, so I'm hoping this is something the counselor might be able to address with him.  But in the meantime, I dread my interactions with him, which is a shame because I am, you know, his teacher.  Julio's behavior last year was much more out of control, but at least Julio believed that I was, at least some of the time, on his side.


Angela said...

What if you tell him how you feel? Like "Edward, I feel like you don't like me and it makes me sad, because I like you a lot." and kind of get his take on it? Having a conversation about your relationship may change the way he feels/thinks/acts towards you, or at least give you some insight as to the problem. It sounds like something changed for the worse in his home environment and somehow you're caught up in it.

miss brave said...

Angela -- we have in fact had this conversation, numerous times, and Ms. Halpert has had similar conversations with him (along the lines of, "What is it with you and Miss Brave?"). All I ever get out of him is that he doesn't like me because I'm mean to him and I always ask him questions and ask him to do stuff...even though I don't treat him any differently than Ms. Halpert does.

peace in the classroom said...

It sounds like he needs you to be a bit more stern with him. I find that sometimes kids act out in this way and seek negative attention when they feel they can get it. He probably senses your reaction even if you try to ignore him. In cases like this, I usually try to take the other person (in this case, Ms. Halpert) out of the picture and break it down to "this is between me and you and I will win." Not in those exact words of course, but the message has to be clear. He probably doesn't act out with Ms. Halpert because she is more stern with him. Kids like this seek structure and authority. When you gain his respect he will most likely stop being manipulative and open up to you. I always look at it like you have to break the kids who seek negative attention down only to build them up to a place where the can learn what it feels like to gain positive attention. Hope this helps.

RG said...

Hi. I've had this problem before - I now teach high school, but I taught middle school for four years in self-contained and inclusion settings. One thing that I have tried is a sort of mediated conversation between the student, myself, and a neutral party whom the student trusts and has a good relationship with. Prior to the meeting that third party can talk to the student one on one. It may be that Edward misinterpreted something you said or did way back when and does not have the communication tools or guts to say anything. Or maybe it's something else. Either way, it's disrespectful, and just not productive for him to respond to you the way he does. And in my experience when things like this happen, eventually we have to reach an understanding with one another so that it doesn't affect the student's learning.

Hedgetoad said...

Ok, this may sound weird, but is there a way that you may remind "edward" of his mom? I've had kids react to me in negative ways because I reminded them of a parent or other caregiver that they did not have good feelings towards.

It would definitely be safer for "Edward" to take out his anger over mom's new job on a teacher, rather than mom.

miss brave said...

Hedgetoad -- that's actually sort of a fascinating idea. My co-teacher definitely takes a harsher tone when she speaks to him, and it's possible that my attempts at a patient voice are reminiscent of his mother, whom he seems to see less frequently since she started her new job.

Angela said...

Yeah, Hedgetoad, that's definitely what I was thinking. Something changed in the home environment and it's like Edward is associating Miss Brave with it somehow...

Kelly said...

Hi Miss Brave, Have you tried asking him about mom's new job and how that's been making him feel? It could also be that maybe you were the first one to notice his inside out clothing, and so he thinks you might think poorly of mom. Hope it works out with him. If all else fails call home and see what Mom thinks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Miss Brave,

1. Try talking with his mom to see if she has any insight on why he is acting that way and if she has any ideas on how to combat it.
2. Remind Edward that he can feel however he likes, but that he must behave in a respectful way to you.
3. Don't take it personally. Most people work with others they dislike or who dislike them. That is why there is an expectation that people be polite in spite of their feelings.

Anonymous said...

Miss Brave,

I have a similar situation with a student in my classroom, and I think I understand what's going on. Edward has a need to exert control and defy authority, but rather than defy everyone he is choosing you. This way, no other authority figure will support you in instituting consequences. In fact, he may be trying to play off of the fact that there is another teacher in the room. In other words, he wants to make you look like the bad guy, the one who can't handle him, so he gets to take out his anger without getting in trouble. I don't think you'll get far discussing his feelings or calling his mom-let's face it, these are cute pieces of advice, but how often do they work? I by no means want to discourage you. I would count to 5 when he is rude to you and continue to withhold choice time etc.