I have THAT KID in my class

In response to Mrs. Knights Marbles, about “that kid”, I wanted to share my story.

Yes, I said it. I definitely have “that kid” in my classroom. We have all had “that kid”, and its been probably one of the most challenging years of our careers, but we always manage to pick up the pieces day-in and day-out and survive another year with “that kid”. Because we care so much about “that kid”, and want to make their year in school a successful one, we are constantly wracking our brains on how we can make a difference. Of course there are times when we are spread so thin, and we feel like we can’t face another day with the behaviors from “that kid”. Such as on Sunday night after a great weekend, or driving to school when all you have are your thoughts comsuming your overwhelmed brain, or maybe right before the bells rings, or when they stroll in 20 minutes late with a late pass in hand as they grin ear-to-ear at us and the rest of the class, we get that “feeling” in our gut, (you all know what I’m talking about!) like you just can’t even deal! However, we are all professionals, and our teacher-mode kicks in, and we KNOW we are here to make a difference for all kids, even “that kid”.

Here are some of my experiences with “that kid” and how I created a positive classroom environment for everyone. For my story I will call him “Michael”. This is not the actual student’s name.

After the honeymoon period

It was seriously day 2 of school when the honeymoon period wore off. Michael was up running around the classroom, climbing on tables, and tossing manipulative buckets into the trash. My eyes were as big as saucers and in my head I’m thinking, “oh my god, is this really happening?! I NEED HELP!!!” Thank goodness I had admin down in my room ASAP! We all knew this was going to be a student we have to keep our eyes on, and probably get an IT meeting set up quickly! By lunchtime I was so taken back by his impulsive behaviors that I literally sunk into my chair in the teachers lounge and couldn’t even speak. The other teachers were happily gabbing about their new class and how it was going, meanwhile I was so on edge and super tense! I started to speak about my morning to the teachers around me, and all of a sudden I lost it. I cried right there in front of everyone! I am NOT a crier, and especially not a public one! Everyone felt so bad for me, the SPED teacher said she would stop in my room after lunch to help me out.
My word of advice: ask for help when you need it (even if it’s through soggy tears)!!! Don’t be too proud or shy, because in the end, you will run yourself into the ground and won’t really have accomplished anything. My first year teaching, I made the mistake of never asking for help. I didn’t want the attention placed on me, and with that, nobody thought I really cared about improving my classroom management or teaching strategies.

Time for an intervention

Before the week was even over, the Intervention Team (IT), admin, myself, and Michael’s parents were meeting to set up goals to make him more successful in class. During this meeting (and all IT meetings), it is where you can really gain insight on the child and realize why they are acting this way. Sometimes it runs deep, very deep, and it involves the school psychologist. Which was true in this case. It is very important to know the whole child and really understand what makes them tick. You find things they like that help motive them in the classroom. Certain things that push their buttons, that you obviously want to avoid.
At my particular meeting, we found out that Michael didn’t like transitions. So I created a clip chart just for him for the entire day. He was in charge of moving the clothes pin to the next activity scheduled for the day. This gave him a sense of ownership and importantly it let him know that whatever he was doing, it was about to end, and it was time to move on to something else. I usually gave him a 5 minute notice so he wasn’t caught off guard. Another intervention we set up was a task chart. Michael had difficulty completing his work and didn’t care if he finished it or not. So to motive him, we broke down the day by subject. After each subject, if he completed his job, he was able to place a sticker in the box. He had a goal set for the morning and then the afternoon. In the beginning we wanted to set him up for success, so he had to achieve 3/5 stickers in the AM and 3/5 in the PM. After I saw him doing this successfully for a few weeks, I bumped it to 4/5 and then 5/5 for the morning and afternoon. I mentioned that in the IT meeting we found things that motivate him. So whenever Michael would achieve his goals, he could earn a prize. Sometimes they were tangible things such as something from the prize box (pencils, erasers, etc) or sometimes it was easy things like our school-wide behavior tickets that kids can receive when caught doing something well, and they are able to hear their names on the announcements. Some other prizes were: he could be the door holder for the rest of the day, the line leader,  paper passer, my student helper to run a “special note” to another teacher. He loved doing all those things, and it was very motivating. Now of course this is NOT all rainbows and butterflies! This chart certainly did not work every day and there were many days he didn’t earn his stickers. However, this made him more accountable for his work.
My word of advice: Do NOT let up. Keep them to it. Once they know you don’t care about the chart, they won’t care about it either.
As our IT meeting concluded, we left saying we would try these interventions and regroup in a month to see how things were coming along.

Training the rest of the class

It’s so exhausting when one student takes all your energy and you feel like you have nothing left to give, but you have to, because there are 24 other important kids who need you too. It was very hard managing all of that, but I kept my cool. I realized that I needed to train my class how to handle Michael’s outbursts. Lets face it, when an elementary student sees another kid in their class jumping on tables, throwing markers, or making inappropriate noises while the teacher is teaching, their natural reaction is to watch them, laugh, or point and “oooo and ahhh”. This only encourages “that kid” to do it more because they are receiving attention. Good attention, bad attention, it doesn’t matter, just as long as they have the spotlight.
One day when Michael was sent out of the room due to some inappropriate behavior, I took this as an opportunity to teach my class and train them. I explained to them that we all know Michael doesn’t always make good choices in class. Sometimes it is hard for his body to do the right thing, but we are here to help him. We don’t want him to get in trouble. I even pose the question to them, “we want him to make good choices right?” “We don’t want him to get in trouble do we?” Of course they are very sympathetic and they really have empathy for Michael then.
Here are some of my examples I give to my class:
*I tell them that whenever he makes a silly sound in class, he wants us to laugh at him, so when we laugh, he does it more, and what does the teacher do? She gets mad at Michael and gives him a “time out”. We don’t want him to have a time out. So your laughing is making him do it more.
*If Michael takes a white board marker and throws it across the room, he wants us to look at him and say “oh my gosh” or “oooooo!”So then he wants to do it again and again because we made those sounds. Then what does the teacher do? She gets mad at Michael for throwing the markers again and again. We have to pretend like we don’t see him doing this. We don’t want to encourage him to make bad choices. You can help him make good choices by ignoring him!
They really eat this up and make it seem like it’s a new challenge or a job they have to do. I even model this and we practice. I pick a kid to do something “naughty” that Michael would do, such as stand up from teaching whole group and climb under the table. I have the rest of the class on the carpet, and we practice ignoring that student. I usually motivate them by giving points on my easel. I say things like, “Samantha is doing a great job looking at the teacher, she gets a point.” “I love how John is siting criss-cross with his eyes on the teacher right now.” “Mary is making such a great choice by not getting distracted by others, she gets a point for her row.” I totally reinforce positive behavior, and we ignore the negative behavior under the desk. This can work for most scenarios.
Sometimes I even practice this drill with Michael in the room, so we are not always putting a target on his back as the “bad kid”. This way he can also see how we model good behavior and ignore the negative behavior. There were times his outbursts were so loud and distracting, but because I set these guidelines with my class, they totally ate up the point system and really did not focus on him at all. It’s like we formed a special club that only our class knew about and how to deal with his outbursts. Sometimes, the outbursts were so extreme, and I was concerned for the safety of the class, so I had to step away from my easel where my points were, and attend to him directly. I was never able to restrain him, but I would call for admin and keep him at bay the best I could till they arrived. It was amazing how my class reacted. They were so quiet and calm, and they made me proud! Even though all the attention was on Michael at that moment, the minute he was removed, or he calmed down, I praised them like no other. They loved it.

Keep calm and teach on

When the going gets tough… yeah it gets really tough!!!! There are days you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. Yet, we have to, and somehow we pull through. I find that you have to pick and choose your battles with “that kid”. You can not physically attend to all of their outbursts or situations. Even though you are keeping up with the interventions and staying as positive as you can, you have to let things go and keep calm. I am a very laid-back, calm type of teacher. I definitely have structure and expectations, but I don’t get frazzled. I don’t show my exasperation to my students and certainly not to Michael.
Michael learned to push my buttons, and would constantly interrupt me while I was teaching. Sometimes with random noises, standing up and pointing at pictures in the book I was reading, saying things like, “this is dumb!” or “I’m bored!”, or rolling on the floor, or distracting others around him. It was seriously like the death of me, and he could tell! He loved attention, even if it was negative. So he would continue to do these things just to get a rise out of me. It takes a strong person to just ignore these types of behaviors right in front of your eyes when all you want to do is teach and attend to the rest of the class!! Somehow I started to train myself to just keep calm and teach on!
If he would jump up to show me a picture in the book, instead of being all negative and say, “sit down!” I would reply, “thank you for pointing that out to us, now please sit down.” If he would distract others around him, I would usually just give him a quick “teacher look” and continue on with my teaching. Before I would get all grumpy and say, “shhhh stop talking!!!” As soon as he would fix the behavior, I would praise him, “thank you for fixing it.” If he would roll on the floor, sometimes I would just completely ignore him and continue to teach. I would keep my eye on him and hope that it would stop soon (and pray admin wouldn’t walk in! ha, kidding… well sorta…). A lot of the time he would get bored with the rolling and stop after a minute or two. If it didn’t, I would start to find other kids who were doing it right. “Jack, thank you so much for sitting criss-cross on the carpet.” “Beth, I really like how you are sitting up with your hands in your lap.” “Ashley, you are such a great listener because you have your eyes on the teacher right now, thank you!” Positive reinforcement goes A LONG WAY!!! I seriously became a totally different teacher when I learned the power of positive reinforcement vs. focusing on the negative. Before I would yell at Michael saying, “Sit up! We do not lay on the floor!”I went from a grumpy scowl, to a happy face and making the rest of the class happy. And those other kids who may be off task too, now all of a sudden are drawn back to the lesson and are paying close attention because they want to be called on for making a good choice too! It seriously works.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not always rainbows and unicorns and all that jazz… cuz it certainly isn’t. We all loose our cool, and flip our lid, and go off the deep end. We’re human. But just remember to take a deep breath, and try to turn that frown upside down, and focus on the positive (of course do that after you had your 2 minute rant that every teacher is entitled to).
My word of advice:
Ignore the behavior you can. Pick and choose your battles. Focus on positive reinforcement. Don’t attend to the negative behavior.

As the year goes on

Dealing with “that kid” will continue all year. You will probably not fix “that kid”, but you are there to guide them into making better choices. They may not have the structure they need at home, so you are their structure they need at school. On the rare occasion you obtain all your goals, and “that kid” miraculously becomes a “normal kid”, good for you!! I have never had that happen to me, ever. I just have to keep up with the interventions the best I can, see what works for the student, and adapt to new changes if something isn’t working. I do know that the entire year I was very consistent with Michael and he knew his boundaries, however, he chose to push them just because that’s in his nature, and remember he IS just a kid. If you have “that kid” in your classroom this year, I hope these words of wisdom can help you and console you at the same time. Know that you are NOT alone. Other teachers go through this daily. Seek help from your admin or other teachers. And of course there’s always wine! 🙂
If you have any experiences with “that kid” in your classroom, be sure to leave a comment. I would love to hear from you!
Here is a freebie procedures card you can download in my store that helps reinforce positive behavior during a lesson! Click here to download!

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  1. says

    This really spoke to me! I had "that kid" last year, and I had the same experience of public crying in the lounge (which is so not my nature!). In fact I cried many days last year, and some days it took everything I had to simply walk through my classroom door knowing what I would have to deal with all day. Your advice is spot on!

  2. Cheryl Occhuizzo says

    I really needed to read this article this morning! Even though I am an experienced teacher, I needed to hear all of the totally accurate things you had to say. Thank you so much!

  3. Angela says

    I have just had the week subbing in a class with that kid……I have just become the go to sub for that class….I really don’t know if it makes me happy or a little terrified. My kiddo has ODD (Op-positional defiance disorder) and a 5 he can be a little scary but at the same time very sweet. I has been a very long week for me and I am shattered. I know with teaching you are always on the ball, but with this kiddo it is taken up to another level. I have used some of your approaches with some success over the last week, but I think I will take even more on board when I go back in a weeks time for another weeks subbing. I’ll keep chanting in my head, positivity, positivity…… thank you for sharing some things that worked for you.

    • sarahcasady says

      Oh man! Subbing is so hard, good for you for going back again! I was a sub for awhile before getting my teaching certificate. I know it’s not easy. Good luck!

  4. says

    Oh my goodness…I have ‘that kid’ this year, and I’m feeling so lost (My students are all 4). We’ve been in school for 5 weeks and he’s already been suspended for punching another kid in the face! He knocked the principal down on the playground, after he ran out of class. He throws things, he’s hit me, he kicks and bites and is just generally rough with EVERYONE. I’ve cried so many times because I just feel like I can’t handle anymore and it breaks my heart. Your advice is amazing and I’m hoping to use some of the same techniques when he transitions back to his full-day status. (We’re on a modified schedule because of the punching incident.)

  5. jennifer says

    thank you so much for this article. We have one of those kids and it is really hard. He has melt downs about twice a week. But those meltdowns are twice too many. Thanks for the ideas and encouragement.

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