School started for Renay on Wednesday with the students arriving at 8:30 in the morning. Like the start of every year, and probably especially for those who are veterans, there are lingering memories of students who were just there only three months ago, some fond, some not quite as fond. There are familiar faces, maybe just a little older than they looked in your head when you first met them. And most importantly, there are the new faces of new students.
Even though there was a meeting before the school year officially started, descriptions of the new students may only share a partial picture of expectations of a student, their abilities, or even medical changes. Those first days are so focused on trying to get to know folks, catch up on the summer, and just falling into a pattern that will be the most useful for everyone. It’s quite a learning curve, no matter how many times a specific student may have been “the new student” or how old a student may actually be.
And more distressing are the students who give you no signs of being welcomed to campus. The ones that will fight you tooth and nail over every little hill. Some give you at least twenty minutes, others go right for the tender spots hoping to get a reaction right away. These behaviors are sometimes very distressing, especially within hours of their arrival on campus. It exhausts staff who work with the student, in some cases, especially a student who is quite capable of reaching the requests that a general education teacher asks of the class, makes it very difficult to find a way to appreciate the student and their skills.
The phrases the student uses also sometimes sends a veteran alarms.
- “I’m stupid.”
- “I don’t have to listen to you.”
- “You’re dumb.”
There’s the body language.
- Posturing to gain attention.
- The snicker when they think no one was looking.
- Threatening adults, especially adults in authority
- Trying to “split” two different staff or case managers
Here’s what you need to do for a minute: with the new student, realize you’re laying the groundwork. Hopefully by the end of the year you’ll have a student who at least trusts you, and realizing your authority is in their best interest. Testing boundaries is part of every student’s career. For a student with a disability there are more folks who come into contact with the student, thusly more people in authority to push against.
What can you do:
- Be consistent. Be there for that student, even when they’re trying their hardest at avoiding work to drive you up the wall.
- Use your co-workers if you can.
- Redirect for the positive, do more than catch a student doing the right thing, find reasons to praise them for being good, especially those staff who don’t get along with the student. Reward them honestly. This is probably the hardest part of catching the ‘good’ a student does as well much as being genuine that you’re excited they’re doing great things.
- Speaking of rewards, as a staff member you really need to pick your battles. Not everything needs to be a fight. Student won’t write in pencil, hand the an erasable pen. Not willing to write notes, “will you copy these notes later?” or, “If I give you a copy of the notes, will you highlight the vocabulary words for the unit?”
- Realize that staff can be overwhelmed at being shoved away even when they know it’s not personal. Let them take the breaks to walk away from the student, to sit in the hall for a moment and use their own calming techniques so when the battle matters, they know the student may actually listen. Help each other out, give them a shoulder to lean on. As an observer, don’t rush to rescue your co-worker without waiting to hear from them, especially if you might be a preferred staff member.
As a caveat to being that shoulder to lean on: make sure you’re both in a safe place to vent. No other students around and the room isn’t subject to others walking in.
The students are all settling in. It’s going to be a great year. Once you get past these little speed bumps.
Do you have any questions about this week’s blog? Do you want to offer a guest blog? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.