Does this sound familiar?
You cringed just a little when you saw that name on your class lists. You’ve heard from last year’s teachers about THAT KID, and the news wasn’t good. You sigh, and think, “Okay, I will do my best and hope that over the summer THAT KID grew up a bit or learned to behave.”
The school year starts and you’ve prepared well. Things start out pretty well, but THAT KID has crossed the line a few times already. You give the consequences you’ve specified in your discipline plan, but THAT KID doesn’t seem to care and continues to push the limits. You’ve called home but the parents were hostile and defensive. You’ve sent THAT KID to the office, but that didn’t help. Your stress level increases. You start to wonder why THAT KID is never sick. You’ve done just about everything you can think of except deciding to move to France. The mere mention of that kid’s name makes you tense up.
What are you going to do?
That is what we are going to look at in this blog: Just what you can do to turn THAT KID around, or at least give you some peace and less stress.
THAT KID could be any kid, at any age, male or female, rich or poor, any race or ethnicity, any religion or creed, any level of intelligence. However, it is more likely that certain kids get a reputation for being difficult. We will look at that in the next post.
Let’s look at one of the reasons why THAT KID seems to push your buttons.
Have you ever considered buying a certain car (or other item)? You’ve given it some careful thought and you think you know what you want. Suddenly, you start seeing that particular kind of car almost everywhere – in the grocery parking lot, waiting for the light to change, going down the street past your house.
You’ve just experienced something called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Some people call it a frequency illusion. (You can read a quick article on this phenomenon at https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/baader-meinhof-phenomenon.htm or a short definition by the person who named this phenomenon, Arnold M. Zwicky, at https://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/LSA07illude.abst.pdf ) What has happened is that your brain has been put on alert to notice a particular thing. Then when you see it, your thinking about that thing is confirmed –“Yep, I knew it! That car is the best because everyone seems to have one!”
When we translate this into the classroom, what happens is this: You’ve heard X about THAT KID and your brain is subconsciously alerted to notice the things you’ve heard about THAT KID. Now, your brain does the same thing with the kids that have a reputation for being angelic. For example, if you’ve heard that Ellie is helpful and kind to others, when you see her whispering to another student, your brain thinks, “Yes, there it is. Ellie is helping that other student.” That’s great, but the opposite is also true. When you see THAT KID whispering to another student, your brain associates that behavior with the negative things you’ve heard and you think, “Oh, THAT KID! I wonder what he’s plotting now?”
Every teacher consciously believes that s/he gives every student an equal chance to succeed, however the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon contributes to a self-fulfilling prophesy, something that happens without our conscious effort. It works like this: you develop a particular idea about a student; you see the student do something and attribute that behavior to what you’ve heard about the kid; that confirms what you’ve been told. That confirmation means we look for the behavior all the more, and that means we act a bit differently towards that kid and s/he lives up or down to the expectations our behavior has communicated to him/her. What’s worse, the whole process is subconscious.
Let’s be very, very clear – we do not do this consciously. This is unconscious, and not done on purpose! Few if any teachers consciously think: I can’t wait to treat THAT KID differently than I do the rest of the class.
This information is all well and good, but what can you do right now, today, to start to relieve your stress?
Try this: make a list of good things about THAT KID. This isn’t always easy, especially if THAT KID has been a thorn in your side for a while. However, by consciously thinking, “I want to notice good things about THAT KID,” you start to break the cycle of the self-fulfilling prophesy. For example, you might start to eavesdrop when THAT KID whispers to another and find out THAT KID is just asking to borrow a pencil, or you may hear THAT KID is asking if the other student wants to borrow something.
It’s that simple: start to really look for good things about that kid. Yes, it may be difficult to do, but there are rewards that are almost immediate. First, it is much more pleasurable to look for positive things than it is to only notice negative things. Second, you are less stressed when you think about positives because when you do not notice mostly negative things your body does not react as if you are in a threatening situation. Third, you begin to chip away at that self-fulfilling prophesy which is the start of a turn-around for THAT KID.
Give it a try!
Next time we will look at how kids get a negative reputation. You may be surprised at some of the ways.
by Kathryn Roe