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First Person: Narratives from the Classroom


Teaching ‘The Wanderer’

By Amy Issadore Bloom

What happened to Andrew? one of the girls asked. I had lost track of time, and the bell was about to ring.

“Andrew is missing,” I told the office. Missing? Lost? I wasn’t sure how to word it. It wasn’t that much of a shock, actually. He was just that type of kid. Fortunately, our administrators responded quickly to these “situations” and had a great sense of humor. Humor is essential in middle school, especially with a lot of at-risk students.

I probably shouldn’t have let him go to his locker. I let Andrew get away with a lot. He was manipulative, and I knew it. But for the sake of harmony in the classroom, and avoiding power struggles, I gave him more freedom and second chances than I should have.

The teacher I replaced had warned me at length about him. She told me about the time he was so out of control, she called the office for help. Afraid of getting in “real” trouble, he ripped the phone from her hands, and the cord from the wall.

From the beginning, I took a totally different approach and gave him a lot of wiggle room. I felt bad for him; he was a bit of a loner. Plus, I’m not sure he was completely in control of his actions. He confided in me that he was seeing doctors in the city to “get his head looked at.”

The civics class Andrew was in was small, but took an incredible amount of energy and planning. The students were at least two grade levels behind in reading, lacked background knowledge in American history, and were just not that into school in general. 

I used a lot of group work and pair work, which didn’t work well for Andrew. What do you do when one student refuses to work with the others, or just makes everyone in the group miserable? Sometimes I let him work alone, sometimes I made him participate. It really depended on his mood. If I sensed he could sabotage my entire lesson, I let him be alone.
 
He was a problem student, and often disrespectful though never vulgar in the way some of my other middle school boys were. He also didn’t bring others down to his level. Andrew didn’t have a lot of friends, and wasn’t the type to inspire bad behavior from his peers. What he did inspire was a lot of complaining among other students when it seemed he was getting treated more leniently.
 
He was incredibly smart, but sometimes refused to do any of his work. He was adept at computers and technology, and rushed to my rescue when I was having problems with the Smartboard, a Powerpoint, or streaming a video. I suspect he wanted to be helpful, maybe to make up for disrupting so much (and stealing my nice pens).

His behavior was inconsistent day to day, and class to class. Some teachers had a lot of problems with him. For others, he was much better behaved. I wasn’t sure if it was something about female teachers, or certain subjects.
 
Andrew was skinny and jumpy. I frequently let him stand at his desk to work instead of requiring him to stay seated. He always made a mess, tearing little bits of paper and such. Sometimes he would complete graphic organizers in yellow hi-lighter—just the type of small thing to really drive you crazy. The answers were almost always correct though.
 
He would have benefited from a different type of school, or perhaps some special services, but had not yet qualified for any.
 
It’s difficult to know much flexibility to give a student like this: When are you connecting with a student and when are you just being taken advantage of? The day he didn’t return to class made me question my tactic and authority with him.
 
His excuse that day was that while he was getting his books from his locker, they made an announcement for his cluster to report to an assembly. So, he did. I could understand the confusion—there were actually various assemblies that day for the eighth-graders. Still, with Andrew, I always felt like I was being played.
 
On the flip side, he wasn’t getting into serious trouble when he wandered off. He wasn’t getting into fights, vandalizing, or doing drugs. Maybe he really did go to an assembly. Maybe he just needed a little space, and to wander the halls for a while.
 
It took some time before I let him leave my class again for anything. But I still gave him a lot more flexibility than other teachers might have.
 
As in any relationship, we pick our battles.

Issadore Bloom, a former member of the Fairfax Education Association, is now a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. Read more of her writing at www.bloomindc.com.


 


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